Tina: The Tina Turner Musical Is a Musical About Tina Turner — on Broadway!
Adrienne Warren gives a Tony-worthy performance as the legendary soul singer.
You know why you're buying tickets to Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway: For the price of a flight to Miami, you want to be able to circle your arms like a paddlewheel and dance to the music of Tina Turner (specifically, her rollicking rendition of "Proud Mary"). Director Phyllida Lloyd gives you that opportunity during a curtain call dance party, just as she did in 2001's Mamma Mia!, the most successful "jukebox" musical to date.
This is Lloyd's first return to a genre that has proliferated over the last two decades, with seemingly every significant recording artist of the latter half of the 20th century receiving a jukebox musical. Tina doesn't break the mold of this increasingly manufactured form, but it's pretty enjoyable thanks in large part to a red-hot performance by Adrienne Warren in the title role.
Personally, I would have been happy with a re-creation of Turner's 1988 Maracanã Stadium concert, but that only accounts for the last seven minutes of this two-hour-45-minute extravaganza. The bulk of the show is dedicated to a cookie-cutter presentation of Turner's greatest hits wrapped in a made-for-TV bioplay.
We see young Anna-Mae Bullock (tiny dynamo Skye Dakota Turner) outsing the whole congregation of her small Tennessee church in "Nutbush City Limits." We cringe as her father (David Jennings) beats her mother (Dawnn Lewis). And we get a bit misty when her Gran Georgeanna (Myra Lucretia Taylor) sends her off to St. Louis to share her gift of song. We brace for impact when that gift is discovered by the abusive Ike Turner (Daniel J. Watts), who brands Anna-Mae with a new name: Tina Turner.
Tina's journey out from under Ike's domination begins with a solo recording session of "River Deep — Mountain High" with Phil Spector (a charitably normal Steven Booth — at this rate, 54 Below will soon be able to organize a concert of Phil Spector songs, sung by all of the actors who have portrayed him onstage). But as Ike becomes increasingly possessive, Tina dances as fast as she can to avoid his cocaine-fueled rage. And that's just the first act!
Katori Hall's book for Tina is far more forthcoming about the ugly side of her story than most bio-musicals on Broadway; but honestly, Turner has always been an open book on this subject (in fact, she's written two). Hall's most insightful scenes depict the generational nature of abuse, revealing the cultural forces that convince extraordinary women to stay with terrible men: Even on her death bed, Tina's mom tries to get her to reconcile with Ike.
Hall is also interested in the faith traditions in Turner's life: Black Christianity, Native American spirituality (unlike The Cher Show, Tina does not attempt to bury the artist's dubious claims of Cherokee ancestry), and celebrity Buddhism. Their influence is represented by overlapping chants, which return at key moments to add mystical weight to a banal ballet of scrappy agents, sassy dancers, and smug record producers flitting around an artist with a heart of gold and a voice destined to mint even more.
Warren fills that central role like a celebrated songstress in a leather dress. She's bursting with talent and charisma, making all of her strenuous choreography and vocal acrobatics look easy. Her renditions of "A Fool in Love" and "Disco Inferno" had me dancing in my seat, while her versions of "Private Dancer" and "What's Love Got to Do With It" are studio quality — all delivered six times a week (Nkeki Obi-Melekwe takes the role Wednesday and Saturday matinees). Warren is an absolute rock star, destined to receive a Tony nomination.
The other performances are competent, but mostly serve to complement Tina's fabulousness. The one exception is Watts, who sports a growly rock voice and is terrifying as Ike: At one point, he grabs a cymbal off a drum kit and hurls it at Tina. Sordelet Inc. stages these moments of violence like they're choreographing Mortal Kombat: The Musical.
During the musical numbers, we can practically feel Anthony Van Laast's peppy choreography in our bones. It not only helps us to understand what was so special about Turner's music, but it elegantly helps Lloyd squeeze a half-century of history onto the stage, with characters dancing in and out of Tina's life (a rotating stage is put to good use).
Lloyd marshals the design team for a production that mostly dazzles, yet occasionally fizzles: Mark Thompson's costumes are beautiful, stylish, and detailed, conjuring bygone eras with every swish of chiffon and shimmy of fringe. Similarly, Campbell Young Associates provide a menagerie of wigs that silently tell the story of hair choices between 1950 and 1990: the good, the bad, and the hideous.
They are much better at transporting us than Thompson's uninspired scenic design, which (beyond the aforementioned turntable) is mostly represented by an ever-changing flat that comes up through the floor (Ike and Tina's aquarium of petrified fish is the saddest of these). Jeff Sugg's screensaver projections don't do much to liven up the stage picture, although Bruno Poet's versatile lighting does. Sound designer Nevin Steinberg has engineered the Lunt-Fontanne to make every lyric and guitar riff crystal clear, while also adding to the legend of Tina (Anna-Mae can't help but overpower the choir when Steinberg is running the mics).
If you hate everything about jukebox musicals, Tina is unlikely to change your opinion. But if you love Tina Turner and would happily spend your money hearing her songs performed by an uncanny medium, this is the show for you.