As the safety curtain started rising and the opening bars of The Best thumped through the auditorium, there was a palpable sense of excitement throughout the audience of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.
With a pre-show announcement asking the audience not to sing along to any of the musical’s songs until the end of the performance, there was a general feeling that this was an audience that loved the music of Tina Turner and was keen to find out more about the woman behind the music.
And then suddenly from this performance of The Best a song from later on in Tina’s career, the audience was transported back in time to Tina’s childhood in Tennessee. A young Tina (played by Poppy Cunningham) belted her lungs out in church, riffing over the rest of the congregation – much to the embarrassment of her mother (played by Madeline Appiah).
For the rest of the first act, we found out about the painful reality of Tina’s life behind the scenes of her show-stopping performances. At a young age she was abandoned by her mother, who left Tennessee for St Louis to escape being domestically abused by her husband, and so was brought up by her grandmother (played by Irene Myrtle Forrester). At sixteen, Tina (now played by Aisha Jawando) then joined her mother in St Louis and was soon taken under the wing of Ike Turner (played by Jammy Kasongo) to join the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
Under the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Tina soon received widespread acclaim, even being asked by Phil Specter to record River Deep – Mountain High. The problem was that she was also trapped in an abusive marriage with Ike, who both physically abused her and kept any money she made to himself. As a result, when Tina finally divorced him at the end of Act One, she and her two sons were left destitute.
Indeed, Katori Hall’s book does a great job of narrativizing the twists and turns of Tina’s path to stardom. The use of non-naturalistic elements, such as the appearance of Ike’s figure at moments Tina felt vulnerable, or the appearance of young Tina and her grandmother at times when Tina needed emotional support also effectively enabled an interesting foregrounding of Tina’s emotional trajectory, as opposed to minutely detailing her personal history. With the plot always punctuated by Tina Turner hits, such as Let’s Stay Together, Proud Mary and Private Dancer– and the continual suspense of when we would finally experience the performance of The Best teased at the beginning of the show – any dips in narrative interest were always made up for.
Aisha Jawando and Jammy Kasongo did a particularly good job at dramatizing the transformation of Tina and Ike over the five decades in which the play is set. Jawando brilliantly performed Tina’s growth from a young and naïve Tennessee girl to a global Rockstar who knows what she is worth and won’t settle for any less. Meanwhile, Kasongo excellently balanced the deplorable violence of Ike by revealing how he feels dehumanised by his treatment in the racist United States and effectively performed Ike’s eventual downfall into a lonely old man. Throughout, Jawando and Kasongo’s performances were flawlessly supported by the ensemble of dancers, including Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, Lori Barker, Samara Casteallo, Matt Mills, Paul Mukembo, Mia Musak, Anu Ogunmefan and Alex Okoampa.
Altogether, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical was an undeniably powerful and moving portrait of the life of Tina Turner – a woman who, despite growing up in a racist United States and being told that she was too old to forge a new career without Ike Turner in her forties, became a global Rockstar whose music still touches people’s souls. The balance of racial trauma – the n-word was, for example, used repeatedly – with the glitzy feel-good numbers was sometimes jarring. In celebrating Tina’s music, the production was, however, flawless, culminating in a medley that, with Aisha Jawando’s fantastic vocals, almost felt like you were at a Tina Turner concert.
Indeed, for those audience members that solely came to enjoy Tina’s music, the show offered an important reminder of the reality of racism and domestic abuse, inspiring a greater empathy for Tina and a call to action to support all women who have had to endure similar circumstances.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is currently playing at the Aldwych Theatre with booking available until 18th December 2022. Book tickets and find out more here. For the month of October Tina – the Tina Turner Musical is partnering with Refuge to mark its 50th year of supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse. When you book through the website, patrons will have the opportunity to add a £3 donation per booking for Refuge.