Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical
Covered in the musical are the the many obstacles Tina Turner has overcome during her lifetime, including childhood trauma and spousal abuse. The book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins is the primary negative component of this piece. Tina's life has many dramatic ups and downs, but the events are presented in a paint-by-number fashion that rarely delves beneath the superficial to reveal motivations or true introspection by the characters.
Too many of the songs made famous by Tina or her ex-husband Ike Turner with Tina are shoehorned into book scenes where the lyrics don't really fit the plot. This is a frequent jukebox musical liability. "Let's Stay Together," "Private Dancer," "We Don't Need Another Hero," and "I Can't Stand The Rain" are used to advance the plot, but the lyrics rarely provide any depth or detail to fit the scene and feel inorganic. The songs presented as performance numbers, such as "Proud Mary," "What's Love Got to Do with It?," and "The Best" work much better. The audience on opening night of this tour stop certainly loved hearing all of these familiar songs, with some people singing along from their seats.
Director Phyllida Lloyd provides fluid transitions and visual tableaus which are eye-popping, and the story is clearly told. However, a few scenes are staged in a manner that is cheesy or even cringy, and for too much of the time, the character of Tina stands front and center delivering song after song. Anthony Van Laast's choreography is apt and lively. Anne Shuttlesworth leads a vibrant sounding 10-piece band who really get to show off during the show's encore.
The role of Tina is a big one, so it's no surprise that two actresses share the part on tour. For opening night, Zurin Villanueva portrayed the title character. Ms. Villanueva provides powerful, high-octane vocals, solid acting, and comes across as a strong yet sympathetic character. She replicates the sound of Tina Turner's voice without sounding like an imitation, and is certainly a primary asset in the show.
Garrett Turner does what he can with the villainous role of Ike Turner. Strong performances are provided by Taylor A. Blackman (Raymond Hill), Paris Lewis (Alline), Roz White (Zelma), and Lael Van Keuren (Rhonda), among others. Special kudos to Ayvah Johnson (Young Anna-Mae), the child playing Tina as a young girl, who gets to show off vocals and stage presence that would be the envy of many a seasoned vet. The entire ensemble does a great job with the very active blocking, dancing, and vocal support.
Mark Thompson's scenic design is mostly smaller elements to supplement the projections by Jeff Sugg. Their combined effort provides variety and conveys the settings suitably. The lighting by Bruno Poet sufficiently covers both the dramatic and the performance elements of the show. Mark Thompson also supplies the costumes, which often replicate outfits made famous by the performer, and which are attractive and period appropriate.
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical is a high energy musical that benefits from its many classic songs and a basic story of survival and determination to overcome the odds. The performances for this tour are likewise a strong asset, and help offset the creaky and surface-level storytelling which limits the emotional impact.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical runs through November 6, 2022, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit tinaonbroadway.com.