Simply the best (and worst) of Tina's torrid life

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    Tina Turner is helping to develop a musical biography of journey from rags to riches to rags (again) and, finally, to rock icon status

    Tina Turner is helping to develop a musical biography of journey from rags to riches to rags (again) and, finally, to rock icon status.

    The show, called TINA, is in its early stages, but Turner will attend a private workshop in London today, where a cast of 14 will work from an initial draft of a book written by playwright Katori Hall, who won an Olivier award for her Martin Luther King drama The Mountaintop.

    Director Phyllida Lloyd, who has staged everything from Mamma Mia! to the acclaimed Shakespeare trilogy for the Donmar, has been collaborating with Hall on the project.

    Turner commented in an email that it would be ‘an extraordinary experience to see my life retold live’.

    In a series of lunches, dinners, and meetings, spread out over 18 months, the singer, born in the one-horse town of Nutbush, recounted details of her hardscrabble upbringing; her marriage to fellow musician Ike Turner; and how she fled from the abuse and beatings he inflicted on her, to fellow Tennessee native Ms Hall and Tali Pelman, the creative director of producers Stage Entertainment.

    Pelman stressed that the singer’s well-documented stormy life with Ike ‘isn’t the whole story’.

    ‘After she left Ike, the journey was just beginning. She was largely rejected by the music industry, which had no interest in her,’ Pelman said.

    There were tough years before she recorded the brilliant comeback album Private Dancer which, in 1985, put her on the road to mega stardom.

    Pelman said their initial approach to Turner led to a relaxed dinner with the star and her husband Erwin Bach at their home in Zurich. Further meetings followed.

    ‘It is an extraordinary story – and Tina’s an extraordinary person,’ she said. ‘Katori went to visit Nutbush and was staggered by the fact that there’s one road. The number of hurdles Tina had to leap over is phenomenal.’

    In her message to me, Turner noted that ‘one of the most surprising and wonderful discoveries for me in this process has been that my songs tell my story’.

    Neither Turner nor Pelman would say which of the artist’s songs would be used in TINA, because the show is still a long way off (it may be ready to open in London in 2018), and the task of securing rights could be a long one.

    ‘We’re looking at securing her most beloved songs,’ Pelman did say.

    American actress Adrienne Warren will portray the singer at today’s workshop, although the show has yet to be properly cast (and it doesn’t necessarily follow that she will play her on the London stage)

    The titles alone of some of those numbers give a clue to what was happening behind the scenes: Fool In Love, Proud Mary, Nutbush City Limits, What’s Love Got To Do With It, I Don’t Wanna Fight and Simply The Best .

    Pelman stressed that TINA would not be a jukebox show. ‘The best way to describe it is as a bio-musical,’ she said.

    Nor, she added, will it be a musical version of the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It.

    Although it will differ greatly from what Lloyd did on Mamma Mia!, TINA will share a quality template with the earlier show: producer Judy Cramer’s stroke of genius on that one was hiring Lloyd — and making sure that the frothy fun was underpinned by an ironclad script.

    ‘We want to get the book right first,’ Pelman agreed. ‘We’re trying what we think works best: and that is to go from childhood. It’s a linear story.’

    She described Turner as an ‘extraordinary’ woman and said that even her childhood years, when she was just plain Anna Mae Bullock, are rich and fascinating. She was a country girl, put to work at an early age, who used to watch her father beat her mother. And, as Pelman pointed out, ‘her mother beat him back’.

    She said the show would be ‘about a woman letting go’.

    ‘At a certain moment, she decided live the life she wanted to live and to me that is inspiring — and speaks to everyone.’

    It’s true that Tina Turner’s life and career have been an inspiration to many, including Beyonce: who has cited how the woman from Nutbush has been a blueprint to study.

    Turner, meanwhile, said her visit to London — the city ‘where it all happened for me’ (Private Dancer was produced here) — would be ‘special’, and that she was ‘excited to be moving on to the next chapter’ of the project, after 18 months’ work.

    American actress Adrienne Warren will portray the singer at today’s workshop, although the show has yet to be properly cast (and it doesn’t necessarily follow that she will play her on the London stage).

    Lloyd’s creative colleagues on TINA include designer Mark Thompson, choreographer Anthony van Laast and music director Nicholas Skilbeck. 

    Fake bakes and stolen sunflowers won’t stop the calendar crew! 

    The Girls are back in town! They were on the Royal Variety Show — in their best little black dresses — but when I visited them, at rehearsals in North-West London, they were dressed down in casual gear.

    There was a lot of cake about, too, much of it fake. Luckily, I had brought along a gift of mince pies (real ones!) from Maison Bertaux in Soho.

    Director Tim Firth, choreographer Lizzi Gee, composer Gary Barlow and the creative team behind the show — based on Calendar Girls, about the real-life Women’s Institute who did a nude calendar for charity — are preparing to start performances at the Phoenix Theatre on January 28.

    The Girls are back in town! They were on the Royal Variety Show — in their best little black dresses — but when I visited them, at rehearsals in North-West London, they were dressed down in casual gear

    Firth, Gee and musical director Richard Beadle were running through a number called Silent Night, led by Claire Machin. The song has been ‘jazzed up’ by Barlow, Firth explained.

    He and Barlow spent time with producer David Pugh, going through the script line by line. ‘We saw that some of the characters weren’t as fully realised as we wanted them to be,’ Firth told me. Behind us, Machin was in full swing, while her colleagues Claire Moore, Joanna Riding, Debbie Chazen, Michele Dotrice, Sophie-Louise Dann and other members of the ensemble were moved around the floor, and given new orders by Gee.

    And pity the poor set designer, waiting for 1,300 silk sunflowers to arrive by boat from China — after the ones used during the Royal Variety Show were ‘borrowed’ by members of the audience.  

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