Biographic musicals are pretty much always hit or miss and usually more of a miss than a hit, so I’m happy to say that Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is more of the former than the latter.
Sure, this is a cliff-notes, watered-down version of the songstress’s life, and it’s created to be a crowd-pleasing tour show for non-Broadway people, but it works.
Starting when Tina was just a child – then known as Anna Mae Bullock – we see the beginnings of the powerfully voiced performer she came to be. But family strife causes Anna Mae to be left with her grandmother, essentially abandoned by her mother (and her father.) This creates the psyche where Anna Mae allows abusive behavior to happen to her, specifically in the form of Ike Turner. Ike is a rock and roll writer/performer who enlists Anna Mae as a singer for his band after hearing he belt out a rock tune. When they become successful and go on tour, he changes her name to Tina… and the rest is history.
But endless affairs and years-long abuse take a toll on Tina, who eventually finds the strength to leave Ike and, with only her name left, forges a new start for herself.
Most who walk into “Tina” will already know her story, so there is nothing new here to learn. In fact, it has been watered-down and made more palatable for audiences, so a gritty, realistic version of her life’s events isn’t going to be on display here. But it’s compelling enough and hits all the right notes, regardless.
What is impressive here is the use of Tina’s music to tell the story. Oftentimes with jukebox musicals based on a specific performer’s work, the songs feel shoehorned in to make the lyrics and/or tone work. Here, they work surprisingly well. Only “Private Dancer” feels like a bit of fan service and stretched to make the lyrics fit the scene.
Even “We Don’t Need Another Hero” fits as a wrap-up to her not wanting to fight anymore and finally move forward with her life in peace and prosperity.
The other aspect of the show that works are the performances. While all are terrific, Ayvah Johnson as a Young Anna Mae and Naomi Rodgers as Tina steal the show. Ayvah is a powerhouse as the tiny Tina to the point where, at first, I didn’t even realize a child was belting out the song “Nutbush City Limits.” She is jaw-droppingly fantastic.
The role of Tina is divided between two performers, most likely due to the intensity of the performance. On Opening Night, Rodgers was our Tina, and she was dazzling in all ways. From her acting – which was not just her imitating a legend – to her vocal prowess, Rodgers blew the roof off the Pantages, channeling her inner Tina and making it her own at the same time.
With Tina’s death still lingering in our consciousness, the show hits a little differently now. Perhaps that’s why I have nothing negative to say about this production. Honestly, it’s great. It will please fans of the icon and leave audiences on a high as they exit the theater.
Is it fine art? No. Aside from the performances, is it all that memorable? No. But is it a fun and energetic night out celebrating one of the most fascinating and talented women of the last century? Absolutely.
We don’t need another hero because we already have one in Tina.