Review by Meredith Ganzman
Wearing a skintight, red-hot leather mini dress, Tony Award-nominee, Adrienne Warren, effortlessly struts down a flight of stairs -in stilettos – to meet her roaring crowd. Playing living music legend Tina Turner, Warren’s entrance is one that would make Dolly Levi green with envy. And it is her star-making performance in the new Broadway musical “TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL” that makes her an early season frontrunner for the Tony.
But that is a moment you will have to wait for. It’s worth it though. Broadway’s latest biopic jukebox musical begins in almost the same place: Tina is backstage at her concert about to make this glorious entrance. Her journey to the top of those stairs, and her career, will be long, difficult and often painful. This musical, thankfully, is not.
We meet Tina, born Anna Mae Bullock, as a child at church in her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee. That little girl whose mother (Dr. Dawnn Lewis) just thought she “sang loud” quickly becomes the teen, whose impressive pipes pique the attention of rock-and-roll pioneer Ike Turner (Daniel J. Watts). The two marry, form the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and turn out such hits as “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” “River Deep – Mountain High” and the Grammy Award-winning “Proud Mary.” Their infamous relationship, notably filled with domestic violence, ended after a 16-year-marriage. Tina all the while continues to roll with the punches both to her personal life and her career.
So is this new musical, which transferred from the West End, simply the best? No. Like most of the recent bio musicals, it crams in too much superficial background information instead of diving into deeper and often more difficult issues. Why does Tina really stay with Ike Turner, who financially exploited her, physically beat and emotionally betrayed her, for so many years? The answers the show provides – that she did for the kids and to keep her promise to Ike – are simply not enough. For the amount of dedicated fight choreography showing the volatility of their relationship, surely more time could have been spent to further explore this dynamic.
That being said “TINA” is much better than last season’s “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations,” 2017’s “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” and certainly this season’s box office hit, “Moulin Rouge.” The book by Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall more smoothly synthesizes the beats of Turner’s life. And the production has palpable energy and really moves with award-winning Phyllida Lloyd at the helm. I did not look at my watch once during the performance.
But the success of this new work is primarily because of one knockout, electrifying and Tina-like leggy performer, Adrienne Warren. The Tony Award-nominee was last seen on the boards in 2016’s “Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.”
In numbers like “River Deep, Mountain High,” her singing seems to literally levitate her feet off the stage. And in the multiple renditions of “Proud Mary” (Trust me, just one is not enough), Warren does not simply dance – she rips up the floor in stilettos that most would dare not to even walk in. I have truly never seen someone run, while looking so good, in shoes like these. So while the musical is far from perfect, Adrienne Warren is indeed very close.
(Spoiler Alert) stay for the encore concert. It’s not just your average megamix. In fact, it’s the moment when that character of Tina Turner finally comes into her own, singing her songs, in the voice and style that have made her an icon and now fully cemented Adrienne Warren as a star.
“TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL” is playing now at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 205 West 46 Street,
Run Time: 2 hrs. 45 min. (with intermission) Open Run www.tinaonbroadway.com