The KeyBank Broadway touring production of ‘Tina’ will take you higher
No doubt about it, up until she finally broke out and made it big in her mid 40s, Tina Turner had a rough life. She was the victim of childhood abandonment, spousal abuse and record executives that simply did not understand or know how to utilize her unique singing talents. It was tough going. This makes the construction of a musical that condenses the life of this singular diva a real challenge.
As in all “juke box musicals” based on well known singers, casting is key. In the case of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” they have succeeded. The role of Tina in the touring production is shared by Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva. Opening night saw Naomi Rodgers taking the role and owning it. She has boundless energy and the pipes needed for the role. For fans of Tina Turner the show is packed with 23 songs plus some excellent post curtain call encores that end up as the highlight of the show (be sure not to leave early or you will miss it).
Tina Turner began life as Anna-Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. She was a precocious youngster who loved to sing at church during their lively meetings as depicted in the performance. The show tracks her life through her childhood, her abandonment by her family, living with her gram, moving to St. Louis to reunite with her mother and sister, her meeting Ike Turner, their tumultuous and abusive marriage, her dealings with the music industry and her coming into her own when most singers are giving it up as she performs her first solo concert in Brazil in front of a record-breaking crowd of 180,000 fans.
The show runs two hours and forty minutes but the writing team of Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins keeps the pace moving forward so that time flies by. A bit of warning, there are graphic depictions of domestic violence and drug use so that those who are sensitive to such subject matter should make a decision on whether to attend.
Garrett Turner plays the charming but mean spirited Ike Turner who is set on controlling everything and everyone around him no matter what the consequences. With the fast pace of the show you only get snippets of the man’s personality and his character is sadly undeveloped. Ayvah Johnson plays the young Anna-Mae with delightful poise and a fantastic singing voice. Another actor of note is Carla R. Stewart as Gran Georgeanna who was an anchor in young Ana-Mae’s life. Roz White does a wonderful turn as Zelma, Tina’s mother.
If any criticism was to be forthcoming it would be with the lack of action from the ensemble except when there were dance numbers afoot. When all attention is directed on Tina everyone else is seen simply standing around. The wardrobe is phenomenal as one would expect but the sparse use of props gives one a minimalist feeling not usually found in big touring Broadway productions. At some points you have Tina and an empty stage. That is too much for anyone to overcome. Lastly, the best is held in reserve until after the show when the band and Tina rip into a number of songs in a lively manner. It would have been nice if that high energy and loudness had been seen in other parts of the show as well.
Judging by the unanimously joyful reaction to the show by the packed house on opening night this is a great show to see (especially if you are a Tina fan). There are loads of sing-along moments and a poignancy that elicited strong verbal reactions from the crowd. It is a joyful celebration of a diva’s life. Shake a tailfeather and see this show.
The Keybank Broadway Series touring production of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” will be on stage in the Connor Palace Theatre through May 14, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.