Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical
The book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins offers a glimpse into Turner's life, from her early struggles to her rise to fame. It delves into her abusive marriage to Ike Turner and her journey to independence and stardom, providing insight into the woman behind the legend. However, while the show depicts how Ike Turner brought her into his band in St. Louis and changed her name from Anna-Mae Bullock to Tina Turner, how he then continually physically and emotionally abused her until she left him, and how she then rose to fame as a solo act, all of those key moments are well known to anyone who is aware of Turner, so there is little new information on display here.
There's no denying the enduring appeal of the music that Tina Turner made famous through her career, and the musical is packed with her hit songs. The energy and power of these classics are undeniable and serve as the backbone of the production. However, some of the songs are shoe-horned into the story and the musical's narrative structure occasionally feels disjointed, with abrupt transitions between different phases of Tina's life. This makes it challenging for the audience to fully connect with the story or fully with Tina, even though the many times we see Ike hit Tina are shocking. Also, despite touching on challenging and emotional themes, such as Tina's abusive relationship, the production often glosses over these moments, failing to explore the full emotional depth of the story. For example, we see Tina using Buddhist chants and her mother remaining close to Ike, even after Tina leaves him, but the book doesn't give much information as to her decision to become Buddhist or why her mother remained on familiar terms with Ike. It also offers little background into why Ike was abusive besides him being controlling and, in their later years together, addicted to drugs.
Director Phyllida Lloyd rose to prominence with her work on the hit musical Mamma Mia!, but she struggles a bit here in finding a way to connect the dots in a book that offers the highlights in Turner's life with very few unknown facts. Also, while the show moves along at a brisk pace, with sweeping, artsy projections from Jeff Sugg that depict in an abstract way the many locations in the show, the musical's pacing is somewhat uneven, with moments of high energy followed by slower, less engaging sequences. This inconsistency in tempo occasionally disrupts the overall flow of the production.
Fortunately, the national tour cast is wonderful. As Tina Turner, Ari Groover (who alternates with Naomi Rodgers) shines in her portrayal of the iconic singer. Her vocal prowess and stage presence capture the essence of Tina's dynamism and charisma, providing some of the production's standout moments, without being a complete impersonation of the famous singer. Groover was in the Broadway cast of the show, and an understudy for Turner in that production, and it's her powerhouse portrayal that you'll most remember from this touring production.
Understudy Gordia Hayes as Ike adds depth to the part but the book doesn't give him much to play off of to depict the layers of the character. Wydetta Carter, Roz White, and Nia Nelson-Williams do good work as Tina's grandmother, mother, and sister, with Carter's vocals especially impressive. Zachary Freier-Harrison is fun as Roger, the young record producer who was behind Tina's solo success, and Sarah Bockel is lovely as Ike and Tina's road manager who becomes Tina's friend and confidant. Gerard M. Williams and Max Falls are great as Raymond and Erwin Bach, respectively, the saxophonist in the Ike Turner band that Tina fell in love with and the father of her first child, and the German man she would meet during her solo comeback and remain with for the rest of her life. Also, Symphony King is a knock-out as the Young Anna Mae and the hard working ensemble are all great in depicting the many different characters they play.
The production's costumes from Mark Thompson and hair and wigs from Campbell Young Associates transport the audience back in time to the various stages of Tina's life and career. Bruno Poet's lighting is perfect, especially for the energetic performance numbers. However, Thompson's minimalist set design is a bit of a miss, with only Sugg's projections to provide any sense of the settings in the show.
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical has its moments of brilliance, primarily driven by the iconic and familiar tunes and the standout performance from Groover. However, for fans familiar with Tina Turner's life and career, there may be a sense of expecting more from a musical that aims to honor her legacy.
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical runs through October 15, 2023, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.asugammage.com or call 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit tinaonbroadway.com
Book: Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar & Kees Prins