Theater Review | “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” | Theater

Broadway is a business, and shows based on household names are considered safe bets. The Rochester Broadway Theater Alliance presented two musicals this year based on the lives of legendary artists: “Ain’t Too Proud: The Story of the Temptations” and now, to close out the 2023-24 Broadway season, “Tina” is on a national tour “: The Tina Turner Musical” will continue to play until June 9.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (director of Mamma Mia!), the show opens with Buddhist hymns and praise of Jesus. Lights flashed into the audience, revealing the rock icon’s silhouette, wearing an ’80s mullet, as she ascended the steps of the concert stage. Two characters who represent the spiritual influences in Tina’s life seem to keep her grounded: a woman shouts “Namu Myoho Renge Sect” Another preacher praised Jesus. The latter gives way to a young girl named Anna-Mae (played by Brianna Cameron in Tuesday’s opening performance, captured in a child actor’s firecracker performance The energy and power of a rising star) as she sings and dances freely in church.

A few years later, teenage Anna Mae visits her sister Erin (the carefree, funny Karen Burthright) in St. Louis and performs at a jukebox, where she is Ike Turner (the charismatic, cantankerous Deon Relleford-Lee) finds out. The next day, he showed up at her door and, like something out of a fairy tale, chose her to be his rock queen and tour with him. The fairy tale turns into a nightmare as Ike becomes controlling, insisting that Anna Mae change her name to Tina, firing her lover Raymond (the gentle and likable Gerald M. Williams), and asked for an engagement, a particularly sinister proposal. As her career grew, she faced additional challenges, including racism, misogyny, financial abuse, and ageism.

The challenge of any jukebox musical is to devise new scenes and characters that lead to performances of the existing music in a believable way. Biographical Jukebox adds to the constraints of using these songs, compressing the singer’s life and career story into three hours. This often results in a show that feels more like a rock concert than a satisfying narrative, as was the case with “Tina.”

The play spans nearly thirty years and thus can only capture a snapshot of biographical information. The book, written by Catori Hall, Frank Cattrall, and Keith Prince, jumps from conflict to conflict with little room for narrative. The first spoken-word scene sums up Anna May’s tumultuous childhood in a sudden fistfight between her parents and her walking-out mother. Shortly after we find out that they are actually together, Raymond tries to persuade Anna Mae not to leave him by saying, “Let’s get together.” Later in the play, the characters’ accents are easier to distinguish than their personalities—the manager who loves Tina professionally is Australian (Dylan Wallach), while his colleague who loves Tina romantically is German ( John Battaglis).

Every moment in Tina’s life, from domestic abuse to racism on the road, is interspersed with performances of her hits. The emotional tension lies in the contrast between the conflicts in Tina’s life (according to the show, she’s often surrounded by people who like to throw things – chairs, cymbals, suitcases) and the high-energy performances of her hits, like “River Deep – High Mountain” and “Proud Mary.” The whole show was a sensory overload: bright lights (designed by Bruno Poets) and loud music, culminating in an explosive rock concert with two more songs behind the bow. The vocals were strong, although they were sometimes drowned out by the orchestra.

The role of Tina was so demanding that she performed as a soloist in all but two of the musicals, so much so that both actresses (Ali Grover and Zulin Villanueva) were on tour Take turns playing her. Groover’s Tina is sincere and likable, and easy to root for even before she develops a strong voice. Groover excelled in stage presence and stamina, although it was difficult to hear the lyrics she was singing (or, in the rock parts, she was yelling). It’s easy to lose track of the lyrics as they don’t contribute much to the overall story.

The silent stars of the show are the background projections (designed by Jeff Sager). Sometimes they set the scene with abstract suggestions of locations, such as an open field, a moving car, or the night sky. In other cases, they reflect Tina’s emotional state, such as the psychedelic vortex during Tina’s overdose. Often, they appear as moving colorful shapes, like a luxurious computer screensaver that complements rock music. These swirling designs add more visual interest than the ensemble, whose members appear on stage with nothing to do except watch Tina sing and remind the audience that this is a musical.

Most viewers were probably more attracted to Tina Turner’s charm than the “musical” part, and the show delivered on its promise. Fans looking for a raucous concert in Tina’s memory can see the spectacle of a rock concert and learn about the hardships Anna Mae faced.

Katherine Varga is a staff writer for CITY.

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