“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Saturday, October 19th, 2019, Reviewed
In the past year we’ve had an onslaught of Broadway Musical bios, they come, they bomb sometimes and sometimes don’t (Cher and Donna Summer, only one of which was any good, are already toast, the Temptations is still knocking) and they all have the same thing going on: great songs, lousy books. “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is the latest, and despite a Tony deserving lead performance by Adrienne Warren, isn’t all that good. Except, Adrienne is so great in the title role, such a powerful singer, so nuanced and intelligent. she saves it. It is hard to imagine anyone else in the role, ever. The force of personality, as she goes from Anna Mae Bullock to Tina, emerges from sixteen years as Ike Turner’s punching board, all the way back to super stardom as a solo act. Act One is the Ike story, act two is Tina solo, and there is a mini Tina concert after the bows.
It begins with a bang, a prepubescent Tina interrupting a Baptist Church congregation with “Nutbush City Limits (she was born in Nutbush, Tennessee), than chases its tail in heavy duty narrative storytelling, before stopping the entire show dead with a “River Deep, Mountain High” that audience the audience on its feet. Finally, the penultimate song of the first act, “Proud Mary,” is as commanding as anything. Act Two gets all #metoo on your ass, and Katori Hall’s sense of Tina raising above abuse is too on the nadir, reaching its nadir when a Columbia executive calls Tina a has been “n—-r”. I don’t find that remotely believable. And even if it is true, it does make dramatic sense. By the end, she regains her stardom (not at Live Aid with Mick Jagger, in front of 180K fans in Brazil) and falls in love, and gets a two million dollar signing bonus. There is only really Tina: Ike, her second husband, two managers, a mother and sister, none of them leave an impression in underdeveloped parts, The Temptation’s “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” had three major roles (four if you include Tammi Terrell), nobody else sticks to you in the slightest. In an essence de Jukebox Musical specialty, the book is beyond skimpy. The staging is unassuming till the finale, the finale looks great with a 3D effect that’s a thrill.
Tina is a great talent, no doubt (I saw her at Radio City Music Hall in 1997 and was suitably impressed) but her catalog is a little skimpy, five undoubted songs and that’s it, and while rest assured everything she sings remains sung forever (listen to her “Acid Queen”), a lot of the songs aren’t quite good enough (suffice to say “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” has not aged well), which is why she is singing “Disco Inferno”, and with nothing else to lean on, it gets a little boring.
All caveats notwithstanding, go and see it for Adrienne Warrens’ star making turn. She doesn’t imitate Tina, but she gets the tempo right, and when she needs to roar, she roars.