If you want to relive Tina Turner’s prime, you can’t get much better than Adrienne Warren. The star of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” which opened Thursday night on Broadway, has that smoky-but-booming voice, the Jupiter-sized charisma and those high-energy dance moves. And she can rock a highlighted wig.
But there’s more to it than that. As John Lloyd Young and Jessie Mueller proved in their turns as Frankie Valli and Carole King, the best performances in jukebox musicals go beyond technically proficient impressions and shoot for something real. Warren’s galvanizing turn is, in every sense, in the same league as those Tony winners. The 79-year-old Turner has led a hard life, and Warren lets you know it.
That said, “Tina” is still a by-the-numbers biomusical.
It starts with the star’s childhood in rural Tennessee, when she was a young, spirited Anna Mae Bullock wailing gospel music in church. She grows up fast, meets Ike Turner at a St. Louis blues club, joins him on tour and helps create the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. That’s when things get dark.
An artist’s big break is usually the most joyous part of a jukebox musical. Not in this case.
As we now know, while the singer was belting out the enduring hits of the ’60s and ’70s — “Proud Mary” among them — she was being abused by her then-husband, Ike (Daniel J. Watts). He’d slap her around, cheat on her with his manager and subject her to all sorts of emotional torment. Watts manages to make the monstrous Ike seem human. Still, Act 1 is dominated by hardship.
Luckily, the mood lifts whenever Warren sings. The “River Deep, Mountain High” recording session, the show’s single best performance, gives us our first thrilling taste of her vocal fireworks. (The role’s demands have her performing just six times a week; Nkeki Obi-Melekwe sings both matinees.) As Tina soon learns, she doesn’t need Ike on a single, let alone in her life.
Act 2 finds the singer reinventing herself in London and exploring a more synthesized sound with the hit song “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” She also meets German producer Erwin Bach (Ross Lekites), the man who remains her husband to this day.
Katori Hall’s book gives into the usual biomusical formula: wink-wink jokes for fans, stereotypical record producers and more slammed doors than “Noises Off.” But there’s an uneasy scene near the end of the show, in her mother’s hospital room. Despite Tina’s success, all her mom wants is for her to get back together with Ike. It’s the production’s best nonmusical moment.
But let’s be real: You come to “Tina” for the songs. Director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) stages them smoothly, with vibrant pops of color that ripple off the shimmering fringe of Mark Thompson’s costumes. And all of them — including “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” “Private Dancer” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — sound glorious. During the exuberant final concert, Warren isn’t just rolling on the river: She’s stampeding through Broadway.
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