“A lot of people have asked me why I wanted to make a musical. I always found it a little difficult to answer… because I don’t.”
It might not be the ringing endorsement you’d normally expect from a celebrity whose life story has just been turned into a new stage show, especially in its official programme, but Tina Turner isn’t one to sugarcoat her opinions.
The singer made a rare public appearance to attend the premiere of Tina: The Musical at London’s Aldwych Theatre on Tuesday evening.
With the world’s press in attendance, pressure was already high for the cast. Then, before the show even started, the audience rose to their feet and cheered as Turner took her seat.
But the musical appeared not only to win over critics – but Turner herself too.
“Well first of all, it’s difficult to see someone else do what we did for 40 years. I’m a perfectionist, so I look a little bit critically,” Turner told BBC News after the show.
“But when I look and see it done so well, I feel proud. And I feel like I’m sending someone – sorry I’m getting emotional – I’m really sending someone out that’s going to do a good job and make me proud.”
That someone is Adrienne Warren – a Virginia-born actress who previously appeared in Dreamgirls, Bring It On: The Musical and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.
Speaking after the show, Warren said: “I’m just so happy that [Turner] approves of our work and I’m just so excited to share this story, because she is absolutely the best, and I know that sounds cliche.”
(Full marks for slipping a Tina Turner song title into her answer.)
“She has helped coach me through this entire process, she gave me so many words of advice and encouragement. I really felt supported throughout, and to this day I feel proud to be there because of her.”
Hits including Proud Mary, The Best, I Can’t Stand The Rain, What’s Love Got To Do With It and River Deep, Mountain High all feature in the musical.
The show tells the full story of Turner’s life, from her childhood through to her 1988 concert in Brazil which saw her perform to 180,000 people – earning her a Guinness World Record.
And it doesn’t shy away from portraying the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her former husband Ike Turner (played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) – the singer who brought her to public attention in the 1960s as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
The show is directed by Phyllida Lloyd – whose credits include The Iron Lady and Mamma Mia!
Speaking about her own involvement with the show, Turner joked: “They worked me to death, I tell you!
“I had a lot of involvement, they’re adding everything slowly because they have to learn what Phyllida does, teaching them.
“So there’s little things that I’ve added that they didn’t add yet, but it’s coming. So I’ll be coming backwards and forwards to have a look and watch my children.
“The first time [I saw the show] it was difficult because they hadn’t come as far as they have come now, it was more to criticise. Tonight, I didn’t criticise, it was just to enjoy and feel proud.”
And there was plenty for her to feel proud of – if the first reviews are anything to go by.
Michael Billington awarded the show four stars in his review for The Guardian.
“The show rests on the shoulders of Warren, who is rarely off stage and who is simply astonishing,” he wrote.
“As bio-musicals go, this is as good as it gets.”
Dominic Cavendish, writing in The Telegraph, awarded the show five stars.
“The near-impossible expectation is that Warren doesn’t just ‘play’ Turner, but somehow ‘becomes’ her. Yet that precisely – magically – is what seems to happen,” he wrote.
“Self-evidently it’s not in the same league as, say, Hamilton but this jukebox musical boxes clever within its tight parameters.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Dalton also gave the show a positive review – although he said moments of it were “pure button-pushing melodrama”.
“Phyllida Lloyd’s production is a rollicking rollercoaster ride, delivered with stylistic verve and fireball energy by a high-caliber cast and crew.”
“A discreetly high-tech spectacle, her eye-pleasing production unfolds with the slick sophistication of a modern rock concert.”
David Benedict of Variety described Katori Hall’s script as “disappointing” – adding “it’s occasionally theatrical but rarely dramatic” – but gave the show a positive review overall.
“Warren’s stunningly powerful, extraordinarily controlled performance is way beyond mere perfect impersonation.
“Eyes flashing in hope or burning with determination, the stage burns with both her energy and the spirit she’s channelling. And she has complete command of her character’s pain and pathos and, best of all, the stillness when needed.”