After last season’s batch, I had sworn off jukebox bio-musicals. Summer and Ain’t Too Proud (despite the latter’s continued popularity) were just the bottom of the barrel. But Tina came from London with such raves for Adrienne Warren, it had to be worth a look, even if just for her. And she is completely and totally the show, I won’t deny that. And she’s fantastic.
But the show...without a TINA it’s probably a slog. But with one...with a presence at its core, driving it ever forward, it’s a good time. Yes, it’s a speed-skate through her life. But it doesn’t have a lot of pretensions about being more. There’s no Summer-ish second-act twist-reveal, there’s no ATP-ish bogging down in narration. Tina’s not here to talk us through the details of her life one by one (and there’s just one of her). It’s the songs, with just a sketching of story, like a scattering of snapshots, to link them.
I don’t know Tina’s story (other than Ike is bad), and I can’t claim a deep knowledge of her music. So you’ll have to look elsewhere for comparisons to reality. But I can say that Tina is tight and smooth and almost never hangs up on its story (it does once trip over its Drama, but just once). In the first act, the early part days of her story, the songs are more like commentary on the action than part of it, and they do feel like stepping outside of it. As the story proceeds and events and songs are more contemporaneous, they begin to feel more a part of it, but it doesn’t develop the “and then this song, and then this song” problem.
So, yeah, as drama it’s shallow. But it’s enough to hang the songs on, and the songs are what give us Adrienne Warren’s powerhouse performance. The production is slick and keeps pace with the show. Overall, it doesn’t have any ideas about being more than it is, but it also doesn’t sell its subject and star short as any less than they are. And that’s a balance that few shows of this sort manage to achieve.