By BRUCE DENNILL
Tina: Simply The Best / Directed by John Van Grinsven / Roodepoort Theatre, Roodepoort, Johannesburg
There’s a tendency, when noting that a theatre production is a tibute show, to make that classification somehow of less consequence than a showcase of original material, a straight play or many other forms of staged entertainment. It’s likely that this perspective is borne of a suspicion that the piece might be little more than glorified karaoke, which the worst examples of the genre are, and that you could experience that for considerably less at the corner pub.
Done well, however, a tribute show is a fizzing, emotionally edifying confirmation of the power of artist and/or music that is being celebrated – the power of the rhythms and the hooks in the tunes, but also of the sonic and visual archetypes huge stars first created and then embodied, providing inspiration for scores of artists who came later.
This production of Showtime Australia’s Tina: Simply The Best would be difficult to better, working with the current formula. It is lean, tight and aggressively confident, clearly rehearsed down to the last cymbal and semi-quaver and performed with palpable passion.
Soweto-based singer and actress Caroline Borole inhabits Tina Turner, played here as much younger than the venerable singer’s 79 years. The performance is a triumph of excellent research – Borole has noted the way Turner walked, danced, and held her free arm (the one not holding the microphone) while singing. And she has found a way to reproduce the distinctive sound of Turner’s voice not only by copying the tone but, more impressively, by emulating the technique – mostly palate-formed notes, controlled but with enormous authority when required. That superb control extends to everything in Borole’s routine, as she has the stamina to maintain the same standard throughout the show.
Her example is followed by the rest of the company – two dancer/backing vocalists and a five-piece band comprising guitar, bass, drums (the always reliable and entertaining Riaan Van Rensburg, driving the songs with some fine bell work on his ride cymbal), keyboards and sultry saxophone.
The setlist is a hits package – the title track; What’s Love Got To Do With It; River Deep, Mountain High; Proud Mary, Nutbush City Limits and more – that never feels like it’s just ticking the boxes. That’s perhaps the greatest strength of this production: everything is put together so well, and the music produced is so compelling, that Tina: Simply The Best is simply a terrific concert experience. Roodepoort Theatre is also a lovely venue for it, with sound and acoustics that are among the best of any of the similar spaces in greater Johannesburg, comfortable seating and plenty of room between rows should you want to get on your feet. Top tracks, virtuoso performers, dramatic lighting and a selection of sexy costumes that recall Turner’s various stage shows make this a persuasive package – so much so that being a Tina Turner fan going in isn’t a pre-requisite for audience satisfaction.