Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's recent review of Mercy Unrelenting
Turner is also loved for what she represents: a survivor. Growing up poor and Black in 1940s rural Tennessee, she beat the odds and graduated high school with honors. She became a star while trapped in a horrific sixteen-year marriage to Ike Turner. She escaped that nightmare by dint of her own courage, and had to start all over again, on the brink of eviction, called a has-been and nostalgia act before she was forty. Yet she eventually became bigger and more beloved by fans around the world than ever. She not only survived, but thrived, being twice inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (as part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and, again, as a solo artist), presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and is the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. She also raised four children (in the show we see two sons; she also adopted two of Ike's other children and raised them as her own), became a practicing Buddhist, and wrote several books, two of which became best sellers.
The choice of songs presented here, from Turner's extensive trove of material, include the best known of her hits, both with and without Ike, among them "Better Be Good to Me," "Let's Stay Together," "River Deep - Mountain High," "Proud Mary," "Private Dancer," "What's Love Got to Do with It," and "We Don't Need Another Hero." "I Don't Wanna Fight" is a particularly beautiful song used to stunning effect to close the first act, as Tina declares her determination to be free of Ike's violent hold on her. "(Simply) the Best" becomes a jubilant cry of victory the show climaxes with Tina entering the highest arc of her career, exuding self-confidence and equanimity.
The idea of a jukebox show about this incredible woman, a living icon loved by millions with a vast store of songs to draw from, seems like a no brainer. The ingredients of a compelling biography (albeit, presented via an adequate but not particularly notable book by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), smooth direction by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) that keeps the focus on Tina's journey, and the iconic songs bolstered by fast and furious choreography by Anthony Van Laast prove to be a winning combo. The show opened in London in 2018. It solved the challenge of finding an actor-singer-dancer capable of capturing the dynamo that is Tina Turner by casting Adrianne Warren in a star-making role. Warren was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical and, after the show moved to New York in 2019, won a 2020 Tony Award.
On opening night, Parris Lewis substituted for the two actors rotating in the grueling role of Tina Turner on tour–Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva–both out, along with several other cast members, due to illness. Lewis gave a winning performance, has a strong, round-toned voice, and is an agile dancer–but not the magic that might deliver a sense of the phenomenon of Tina on stage. Granted, that's a heaping tall order for anyone to pull off, but the show suffers from an awareness throughout that, while she was good, there was nothing to make it obvious why Ike Turner was compelled to follow Tina–then known as Anna Mae Bullock–after just meeting her in a sweaty local club, and persuade her mother Zelma to send the seventeen-year old away from her family and go on tour with his band.
The rest of the cast give strong performances, especially Garrett Turner (no relation) as Ike Turner, pivoting between peacock-strutting arrogance, insidious insecurities, and vile eruptions of verbal and physical violence. His husky voice brings Ike Turner's to mind–though of course, few listeners will be tracking the real voice of Ike Turner during the show; only Tina's voice is emblazoned in our collective memory. Roz White is terrific as Zelma, who moves away from tiny Nutbush, Tennessee, for St. Louis, leaving the young girl behind with a father who is unprepared to be much of a parent, and she goes to live with her grandmother. Later, Anna Mae–on the cusp of becoming Tina–and Zelma reconnect, but never with a deep flow of affection. White's portrayal conveys a sense that while Zelma was not capable of bequeathing love to Anna Mae, she did provide a model of inner strength, something Tina very much needed to finally escape her life with Ike. Tina's visit with her mother, as Zelma nears the end of life, is one of the best written and most compelling sections in the entire show.
Nicole Powell substituted for Ann Nesby as Gran Georgeanna, Anna Mae's beloved grandmother who takes the girl in after Zelma leaves. Powell gave a lovely performance, though Nesby, a favorite in the Twin Cities since her days as lead singer of the Grammy Award winning group Sounds of Blackness, was missed. Nia Nelson-Williams was engaging, covering for Parris Lewis, as Tina's older sister, who introduces her to club life in St. Louis where Tina meets Ike. Jeff Sullivan (covering for Max Falls) was particularly appealing as Erwin Bach, a record company publicist who encourages Tina through her comeback struggle, falling in love with her in the process. Geoffrey Kidwell (not a stand-in) is amusing as bizarre (but very successful) music producer Phil Spector. A performer named Ayvah Johnson is quite a little scene stealer with amazing pipes and charisma to burn as young Anna Mae.
The national tour uses the Broadway production's design work. Mark Thompson designed the terrific costumes, giving a clear sense of the changing fashions as the decades pass, with glittery, sexy outfits suitable for Tina Turner. Thompson also designed the far less impressive sets, providing just bare bones outlines of different locations. What saves the day, making the stage entrancing to look at, are projections designed by Jeff Slug. For example, a montage of scrolling locations gives a powerful sense of the grueling nature of Tina's life on the road with Ike, while the use of headlights and passing traffic images makes Tina's escape from Ike a heart-pounding moment. Bruno Poet's lighting design is a critical part of the overall look of the show. Nevin Steinberg's sound design provides the aural background of Turner's life and sends forth with clarity the heart-thumping music, brightly orchestrated by Ethan Popp. Kudos also to Campbell Young Associates for their work on wigs, hair and makeup.
In the past few weeks, I have seen two other shows with extensive fight choreography–Misery and Mercy Unrelenting–and been wowed by how real the onstage violence appears, taking comfort in knowing that skilled professionals guide these actors to avoid injury. While I am in no way a fan of onstage violence, I recognize that it can be an integral part of some stories. In the case of Tina, we are able to fully realize the brutality she witnessed in her childhood and endured in her first marriage. The show's impact would be greatly lessened were it to all happen offstage. The professionals who provided fight choreography on behalf of Sordelet, Inc. for this show deserve high praise for their work.
Tina followed on the heels of two other pop diva jukebox shows, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and The Cher Show. All three were bolstered by bravura performances, but Tina is handily the best of the lot, in spite of its weak book–a problem common to this genre, none coming close to the high bar set by Jersey Boys. But Tina is a classy show, both moving and highly entertaining. Whether you are a fan or admirer of Tina Turner, or simply enjoy a show with propulsive music, high voltage dancing, and high caliber staging, Tina delivers with a wallop.
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical runs through March 12, 2023, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $40.00 - $139.00. Educator and student rush seats available for unsold tickets beginning two hours before performances, $40, cash only, limit of two tickets per ID (very limited, most likely single seats only). For tickets and information, please call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For tour schedule and information go to tinaonbroadway.com.
Book: Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins; Music and Lyrics: from the Tina Turner songbook; Director: Phyllida Lloyd; Choreography: Anthony Van Last; Set and Costume Design: Mark Thompson; Lighting Design: Bruno Poet; Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg; Projection Design: Jeff Sugg; Wigs and Hair Design: Campbell Young Associates; Orchestrations: Ethan Popp; Original Music Supervision, Arrangements, and Additional Music: Nicholas Skilbeck; Tour Music Supervisor: Alvin Hough, Jr.; Music Coordinator: John Miller; Music Director/Conductor: Anne Shuttlesworth; Fight Direction: Sordelet Inc.; Associate Director: Sharika Niles; Associate Choreographer: Janet Rothermel; Casting: The Telsey Office, Patrick Goodwin, CSA; Production Stage Manager: Larry Smiglewski; Executive Producers: Tina Turner and Erwin Bach.
Cast: Antonio Beverly (ensemble), Taylor A. Blackman (Raymond, ensemble), Aliyah Caldwell (Ikette #1, ensemble), Lillian Charles (Young Alline/Young Craig), Max falls (Erwin Bach/ensemble), Zachary Freier-Harrison (Roger Davies/ensemble), Reyna Guerra (Ikette #2/ensemble), Andre Hinds (ensemble), Takia Hopson (Ikette #3/ensemble), Ayvah Johnson (Young Anna Mae), Geoffrey Kidwell (Phil Spector/Terry Britten/police officer/ensemble), Parris Lewis (Alline/Ikette#4/ensemble), Ann Nesby (Gran Georgeanna), Gracie Phillips (ensemble), Nicole Powell (ensemble), Naomi Rodgers * (Tina), Chris Stevens (ensemble), Carleton Terrence-Taylor (Richard Bullock/ensemble), Garrett Turner (Ike), Lael Van Keuren (Rhonda), Roz White (Zelma), Zurin Villanueva * (Tina). *Alternating performances