In a West End full of jukebox musicals, some may wonder why it has taken this long to make one from Tina Turner’s incredible discography. With Tina involved herself, staggering sales in its first year, and now an Olivier award, I visited the show just weeks after their first cast change to see if the musical is simply the best after all…
From humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into the global Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner didn’t just break the rules, she rewrote them. This new stage musical, presented in association with Tina Turner herself, reveals the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race.
It is undeniable that the one thing that does, and rightly should, stand out in this show is the music. The soundtrack is brilliant – full of variety with Tina’s biggest hits woven together with some lesser-known tracks that, for the most part, fit nicely with her story. But for this to truly wow audiences, you need a star. They’re big shoes to fill but Nkeki Obi-Melekwe makes her West End debut in style! There were a few shaky moments in act one (likely not helped by some untimely and rude audience interruptions) but she took it all in her stride, and by act two she was truly Tina. Some vocal moments make you gasp with delight, for me namely River Deep Mountain High, and her character is immediately likeable. Nkeki is one to watch that’s for sure.
As a piece of theatre some tweaks can be made. At first the staging seems fluid and clever, with the revolving stage and multi-level walls creating different scenes with ease. However, it isn’t used to its best ability. Upcoming action is often set too early in the background and can become distracting in the wrong places.
The plot itself is surely reminiscent of other bio-musicals, drawing parallels to Beautiful and Motown for sure in both the story and storytelling devices. It doesn’t detract from Tina but starts to feed in to a bit of ‘jukebox fatigue’ and may prevent you from making return trips. Maybe it’s this that makes act one feel slightly lacking in places, perhaps too much plot to set up too, but by the time act two comes round you are fully invested in Tina’s story and out of your seat for the sing-along megamix finale.
Minor tweaks aside, this is a show that champions standing up for yourself and fighting on regardless of what’s happening. Tina Turner is a star and I admit after learning more about her past through the show I have found a new respect for her. She and the creative team have produced a solid show with some moving moments and a great message of resistance at its core. Throw in some whopping vocals and you’ve got a West End hit!
With huge thanks to London Box Office for the tickets. You can secure your seats to this great show currently playing at the Aldwych Theatre on their website.
Photography by Manuel Harlan
I received two complimentary tickets to this show in exchange for a review, however my verdict is, as ever, fully my own!