Tina Turner – The Tina Turner Musical

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is a biographical jukebox musical, covering her life from her childhood to her fifties, ending at her record-breaking performance in Rio De Janeiro in front of 180,000 fans. Tina’s life was not easy. The musical starts in her childhood. She is born Anna-Mae in Nutbush, Tennessee, and after her mother leaves her violent father, she is abandoned by both to live with her grandmother until her late teens when she moves to St. Louis to live with her mother and sister. After she sings powerfully when offered the mic at a show, she gets the attention of Ike Turner, who has written the hit song “Rocket 88.” He brings her into his band and quickly dominates her. He ends a seemingly healthy relationship with another member of the band, changes the name of the band to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, making her take on the stage name of Tina Turner, and finally convinces her to marry him. He is openly unfaithful, addicted to drugs, and beats her and her two sons. She finally, at the end of the first act, breaks out of the terrible marriage to freedom and safety. The second act shows her struggling to get by after the financial hits of divorce, losing her band with Ike, and lawsuits, then her development, with the help of her manager Roger Davies, into her new sound, hair, and solo success.

Zurin Villanueva and ensemble

This adaptation of her life to a two-act musical keeps things simple; except for a brief moment at the beginning when we see mature Tina preparing to go onstage, events occur chronologically, avoiding the confusing pitfalls of artificial frame stories and the lurching momentum of flashbacks. I appreciated this clarity of the story’s presentation. Its pacing never slowed, but sometimes I wish it did; we never got to see Tina in repose, at her ease with family or friends. Her every moment is action or plot; the show communicates the events of her young life more than it does who she is. After seeing the show, I can tell you that Tina Turner became a strong woman who achieved great success despite overwhelming difficulties of abuse, racism, and starting her career over, that she’s worthy of respect and her music is lasting– but I can’t tell you what sort of personality she had, what made her laugh, what she for fun, or how she was as a mother or friend. I also wish that we had gotten to see more of her being happy in her success, and more of her relationship with Erwin Bach, the German music executive who became her second husband, and who was with her for almost 40 years, until her death in 2023. While we see much of Ike, we saw little of Bach, who even gave her one of his kidneys when she was seriously ill in 2017. Tina Turner did write multiple memoirs, and there’s a biographical film from the 90’s, so perhaps the creators of this musical didn’t intend to cover every aspect of her story.  

The musical is full of Tina Turner’s iconic hits, some diegetic and some not. I preferred the diegetic songs, when we got to see the costumes and dancing, the energetic stage presence of Tina Turner performed by the lively Zurin Villanueva. The songs are not placed chronologically, so characters sing 80’s ballads in the 1960’s, undercutting the contrast of her reinvention. Some of the song lyrics feel slightly out of context, and in one scene, after Ike brutally hits both his wife and son, he sings “Be Tender With Me Baby.” I was unfamiliar with the song, but I felt that if I had been more familiar with her music, I would have been irked that a touching song was now warped in the mouth of a violent manipulator. Before seeing the show, I anticipated seeing “Proud Mary” performed, but I was disappointed to have them break the song off shortly after getting to the fantastic, fast portion, for backstage domestic violence. At the end of the show, after the bows, they perform a medley which includes “Proud Mary,” but only the ending portion of it, and it doesn’t hit the same way when its slow-grooved beginning hasn’t set it up.

Zurin Villanueva and ensemble

The costumes are a lot of fun; we get to see decades of American fashion as well as many different stage costumes, including a vibrantly tacky Las Vegas performance. The orchestra is excellent and comes on stage at the end, allowing the audience to see the musicians perform some impressive instrumental solos. The set design is minimal, restricted to a few small pieces and props to set scenes and relying heavily on a busy screen which works as the backdrop. This screen is less visually appealing than classic backdrops (especially since many of the backgrounds it shows are deliberately out of focus) and is frequently distracting, moving swirls or sparkles or abstract effects accompany many scenes, as if the audience could get bored by Broadway performers would be captivated by glorified screensavers.

Opening night at TPAC, the hall was packed and the audience was invested, angry murmurings following Ike’s abusive actions, and cheering following a hospital scene where Tina stands up to her mother and Ike’s attempt at manipulation. At the end, as Tina and the ensemble performed their high-energy medley, people stood and the crowd screamed like they were actually at one of her concerts. 

The cast was good. Zurin Villaneuva plays Tina Turner with unstinting energy and a wide vocal range, Deon Releford-Lee as Ike has a smooth manner which changes quickly to vicious anger.

Brianna Cameron

I am very impressed by Brianna Cameron, who plays young Anna-Mae; that 4th grade girl has a bigger voice than most adult women, and her range is equaled by her vocal control.

This musical is for the fans of Tina Turner who want a little bit of everything, and to see a glimpse of what it would be like to see her perform live in concert; this Broadway cast does it better than a cover band ever could.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is at TPAC through February 18, 2024. For tickets and more information, see The Tina Turner Musical | Broadway in Nashville at TPAC.

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