I cried. And that’s a good thing. Barbara Bullock
A love of musicals
I have always loved musicals as a medium of storytelling. To me, musicals provide the perfect combination of stories coming alive through music, songs, and dance, acting, and dialogue, complemented with props and visual effects. The story of little Anna Mae from Nutbush, Tennessee becoming the world icon Tina Turner deserved the best and got the best forum. A play, very well fitting for other stories, would not do justice here as music has played too much of a part in her life. The story itself, raw, rough, and real, perfectly told in a musical with real actors playing all life-defining moments out right in front of the audience setting the stage for a real understanding of the legacy and life of Anna Mae Bullock, better known as Tina Turner. I had looked forward to this musical for many months. I had the privilege to attend the premiere of the previews on March 21, 2018. Playing in beautiful Aldwych theater in London, one of my favorite cities always a pleasure traveling to, the chosen location could not have been more perfect.
I had seen quite a few musicals before, Broadway shows and smaller productions. Some of them are still running which means that they are quite successful. Many I liked, some I disliked. But none touched me like Tina – The Tina Turner musical. Tina – the Tina Turner musical has set yet another standard. A very high one. It is, as everything that Anna Mae does, simply the best. She gives her all in all she does and one can feel that her heart and soul goes into every production. I also never cried so much at a show before.
Adrienne Warren on stage brought back memories from seeing Tina on tour. During the latter part of the musical, the theater indeed turned a bit into a concert venue as the entire audience sings and dances with Adrienne. This certainly brought back memories of some of the happiest times in my life watching Tina on stage from the front row. Watching Adrienne made me miss Tina and those wonderful times traveling the world not just to see her but support her. I have to admit that I shed a few tears, which might sound silly to you but it comes from my heart. When I attend such shows, I am not merely there to be entertained. I do everything I can to support the artist. I cannot even imagine how much hard work went into the preparation and how cruel the life of a traveling artist actually is. I believe that most people are probably not aware of this. Many people in show business are very good at keeping it private unless the pressure of the business becomes so much that it shows and interferes with an artist’s career as well. So here I am to show my respect and support to an artist, who gives her all every single time.
I also cried because I became so thankful that Anna Mae was born in the first place and that she was equipped with the strength she needed. I am in eternal gratitude for her guardian angels for protecting her during her escape. I started to miss her as a person and wished she would have come.
The most personal project ever
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is not just a tribute to one of the most successful artists of all time. To me it is the very personal story of little Anna Mae with a heart of gold filled with dreams, her childhood and adolescence, her adversities, obstacles, and pain and how she, through her God-given talents, audacity, faith, hope, and love not just survives but literally thrives. Last but not least, it is also a praise of all people in her life who saw the real Anna Mae and her immense potential when others looked away.
An invisible thread of faith and love becomes evident when we see and hear Adrienne Warren, playing and portraying Tina Turner in her famous stage clothes and wig, sitting on the floor chanting. The star becomes human, a personality becomes a person, and the story of little Anna Mae from Nutbush, Tennessee, USA begins. This thread of faith, love and the connection to the past and to little Anna Mae, no matter how successful she may become, is seen throughout the musical as the celebrity standing in front of her grandmother GG and her own inner child, little Anna Mae standing on a tree. Certainly, one of my favorite scenes in the musical as I love such references to the past which give me a glimpse of Anna Mae’s life before she became famous. No matter how far we make it in life, I believe that we are all the result of everything that happened in the past and every single person we have met and every action they and we have done. The reflection back to the past makes it visual that all that happened, the misery and the success is all part of our greatest stories of courage and endurance as well as an unconditional love of our loved ones who help us get through it all. Besides, living with her loving grandmother reminds me a bit of my own childhood and how much a grandmother’s love means to a lonely child.
Many people were and still are very significant and influential in Anna Mae Bullock’s and Tina Turner’s life. Many are portrayed in the musical by actors and actresses, who with talent, charm, and a bit of humor, fulfill these roles perfectly. We see Aisha Jawando as Tina’s sister Alline Bullock, the big sister always by her side. Madeline Appiah totally convinces as Zelma Bullock. All actresses are amazing because, in my opinion, they portray Anna Mae’s true spirit. Anna Mae was there in spirit, the little girl that grew into one of the most successful artists of all times.
The difficult times
The difficult times are shown quite graphically. Prepare tissues if you have not yet done so. When Kobna Holdbrook-Smith comes on stage, my heart starts pumping. He could not be a better and more realistic Ike. I had to look away during some of the cruelest scenes trying and succeeding at beating Adrienne Warren as Anna Mae to the floor. At times, I even wished he would stop as I could no longer watch. That’s how real it gets and how amazingly gifted actors and actresses we see. But this is not just an act.
Yes, we have seen those scenes before in the movie or read about them. However, scenes being played out by actors live takes them to another level of reality. Yes, this really happened. Beautiful Anna Mae being tossed to the floor, beaten and hurt, seeing no escape other than ending her own life, and begging for help. Yes, beautiful Anna Mae indeed had to endure this. By now I am in tears wishing I could get up from my seat and hug two individuals, Adrienne Warren who so convincingly plays her part that Anna Mae becomes real within her, and the real Anna Mae seemingly far away from the London stage to give some comfort and to let her know that everything was going to be okay. The scene evolves and the story continues. Thank God the past is the past.
The story builds up and we still remember the little girl from Nutbush filled with a beautiful heart of big dreams but asking herself whether she should indeed leave and go out into the big world. It’s as if she asks herself whether she is indeed cut out to lead such a life. Yes, Anna Mae always was. We see her humble beginnings picking cotton. Then, everything changes. Starting out singing with Ike Turner changed her clothes, changed her shoes into high heels, even changed her name. Singing had become rather a burden than a pleasure, relationships seemed even more complicated, everything even more difficult than back home. Anna Mae had become Tina whether she wanted or not. Was this what little Anna Mae had in mind?
Once all trials seem over, Ryan O’Donnell as the manager Roger Davies provides much-needed hope refusing to give up on his newly found talent, and Gerard McCarthy enlightens as the record company marketing manager Erwin Bach. We know the love story that follows. Particularly enchanting I found the scene when we hear him say that he likes to meet artists in person, falls for Anna Mae and literally runs to Brazil to let her know that he loves her for herself. This means her past and all wounds included. This is the true love Anna Mae so deserves.
Some of my favorite scenes in the musical showed the deep bond and motherly love between her and her sons Craig and Ronnie. A beautiful, unconditional love between mother and child seems especially strong here, it is beautiful to watch. The child actors do a fantastic job, so I can only imagine the real sons. I love seeing them together with their mom. No more words could describe this motherly love.
Tina was there
The first time I could really feel the essence of Anna Mae’s presence was during Adrienne Warren’s performance of River Deep Mountain High, probably one of Anna Mae’s first attempt to break out of Ike’s chains of confinement through her own talent and willpower. Adrienne’s voice and dance performance could not have been closer to Tina’s. I literally got chills as if a spirit had entered Adrienne’s body and taken over. So, there I was crying again. Tina was there that night. I believe that Tina and the entire production team has found the perfect match to showcase the true spirit of Tina. Adrienne became Tina that night. I believe that Tina found her and that Adrienne found her inner Tina Turner. Adrienne is beautiful, charming and extremely talented. That night, she channeled Tina. I could not believe what I was hearing. Adrienne’s voice started to sound like Tina’s. She channeled her in a way not simply trying to sing and dance like one of our greatest performers of all time but she channeled the fact that Tina is not just a stage persona but a little girl from Tennessee who had overcome the unimaginable. In this sense, Adrienne channeled not only the essence of Tina in terms of performance but also the essence of Anna Mae, the person. Although two separate entities, the on-stage Tina and the private Anna Mae, I believe that it takes both personas to create the essence of what the world knows as Tina Turner. Like a set of twins, separate entities and yet one, it takes Anna Mae’s belief system and Tina’s professionalism to create what the world knows as Tina Turner, one of the most successful artists of all times.
Tina and Anna Mae
In my opinion, Adrienne could not have done better at portraying both, the stage persona Tina and the private Anna Mae, or at least as much of a glimpse into this world Anna Mae herself would allow. Adrienne’s performance brought tears to my eyes because, to me, Adrienne could not have channeled both, Tina and Anna Mae more authentically. What also is shown in the musical is how extremely lovable Anna Mae, the person, really is. Here once again, the perfect acting makes this quality visible to the audience. After experiencing so much misery in one’s life, many hurt people become tough, angry and bitter. Once again, we see that Anna Mae is bigger than that. She turned to her faith and kept on living and loving through it all.
I believe that many things in our lives happen for a reason even if we don’t understand it initially. I also believe that God equipped Anna Mae with incredible faith probably because he knew what she would have to go through. She got an immensely tough life lesson. But we also know the result. Anna Mae is not one to break. Anna Mae is one to rise above all. At the official opening of the musical in April 2018, we heard her say that she turned poison into medicine. She indeed did.
Adrienne Warren is the next generation of performance. Many young artists were inspired exactly by such success stories as Tina Turner’s. May Adrienne’s success continue to catapult her into the heights she imagines for her career just as little Anna Mae in the cotton fields of Tennessee once dreamed her dreams of being a star. I see a bright inner light on Adrienne’s face just as Anna Mae has an inner light that shines brightly on the outside. Adrienne is beautiful and incredibly talented herself and, with this performance, has made another step up high in her career. May your dreams come true, Adrienne Warren.
A story of audacity
Throughout the musical, we hear many of the world’s favorite Tina Turner songs delivered and woven into dialogue. One of my favorite songs of the musical is Don’t turn around not because it is a fantastic song, but the meaning of its lyrics and how suitable they are in this story. “I’m gonna be strong, I’m gonna do fine, don’t worry about this heart of mine, I will survive, I’ll make it through” (Hammond, Warren), sounds like little Anna Mae crying out letting us know that no matter what happens Anna Mae will always make it. As if she is saying to the audience “don’t worry about me”. And yet we do worry. At least those members of the audience who came to pay tribute to the human being in the first place. The standing ovation in the theater was certainly to the entire cast for their remarkable performance but also to the essence of Anna Mae. Through storytelling the star became human.
As mentioned earlier, musicals are the perfect combination of sights and sounds on a stage. The already graphic story is accompanied by beautiful stage design and scenery from the cotton fields, scenes on the road, and home life to rainy days in London (of course presented with the hit I can’t stand the rain). I also have a particular interest in history and how people used to live, dress etc. I love the costumes and props in the musical that literally take one back into the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s! A delight and must see!
Faith in a better tomorrow
Most people around the world will never have the opportunity to get to know Anna Mae personally, but perhaps this musical is a glimpse into the life of little Anna Mae who, through her own audacity, hope, and love, turned into Tina Turner, one of the most beautiful and successful artists of all times. Thank you, little Anna Mae, for dreaming your dreams. Thank you, grown Anna Mae, for carrying on when you felt like giving up. Thank you for giving the world Tina. Thank you to everyone involved in the production of this wonderful project. Finally, thank you, Adrienne, for carrying the torch to future generations. I hope that Anna Mae will be encouraging you in many years to come just as her grandmother once took care of her and set little Anna Mae free to follow her dreams.
I believe in you, Anna Mae
This musical is not a simple tribute to a great artist. Performing and watching this musical is a tribute to an amazing human being and the opportunity to give a little bit back of what she has been given all her life. Everything she does is done with perfection. I started to miss Anna Mae, the person, terribly.
Dear Anna Mae,
I am sure it was yet another sacrifice you had to make in your life, and you have had to make plenty. You don’t do anything quickly and carelessly just so it is done. You are a true artist giving your all to your audience. You don’t stop when you are tired, have had enough, are unwell or hurt. It takes every inch of your body and soul to please others because this is who you are (at least as far as I know). You are a true mother. Giving your all never asking for anything in return. Francesca Jackson as Rhonda Graam singing Open Arms describes promises to always be there as a friend. All these and more people believed in Anna Mae. And so, as I leave the show, this is my promise to you, Anna Mae. I promise that I’ll always be your friend. No matter what may still happen in your life, know that you’ll be supported, know that you’ll be loved through it all. It is my promise to you that I will always turn around and never walk away. I will always have open arms for you. Telling your story with this musical means so much to so many and I truly hope that future generations worldwide can at least catch a glimpse of the amazing Anna Mae from Nutbush, Tennessee, USA and what can emerge out of a little girl and her heart filled with dreams, audacity, and love.
Thank you, Anna Mae, for being you. I love you.
To the entire production team, I bow and say thank you for not just an amazing night out but most surely the best musical I will ever see.
Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Bullock, M.F.A., spiritual writer
Photo taken by Barbara Bullock in London, March 2018.
Have you been inspired today? Barbarabullock.wordpress.com
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical
Director: Phyllida Lloyd, Venue: Aldwych Theatre, Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast, Music director: Thomas Kelly, Producers: Tina Turner, Joop van den Ende, Stage Entertainment, Tali Pelman
Don’t turn around, song, Capitol, 1986, Albert Hammond, Diane Warren, writers.
I can’t stand the rain, song, Capitol, 1984, Ann Peebles, Don Bryant & Bernard “Bernie” Miller, writers.
Open Arms, song, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, 2004, Martin Brammer, Colette Van Sertima, Benjamin Barson, writers.