River Deep, A Tribute to Tina Turner
This musical-cum-dance piece doesn't give audiences enough to fully appreciate the pop legend's unusual life.
The second thing to note is that whatever River Deep is, the result is neither a cohesive blend of art forms nor an emotionally affecting tribute to the pop legend. Indeed, pinpointing Lansner's artistic intentions is a bit tricky, since the show isn't a traditional musical nor is it a exclusively a dance piece. Instead, the song-and-dance segements are interrupted at regular intervals by spoken excerpts from I, Tina, the no-scars-barred 1986 memoir written by Turner and Kurt Loder. But the libretto that Lansner has extracted from Turner's book provides only sketchy information on Turner's culture-deprived youth, her introduction to husband Ike's sinister charisma, the not-so-glory years with his band, and Turner's eventually working up the courage to go it solo.
Still, the largest deficiency to be found on the stage of Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater is Lansner's choreography. The basic motif she uses is the movement Turner and the Ikettes popularized: that quick-step hustle backward while bending over that any Turner fan will instantly recognize. (I've always been struck by its resemblance to someone caught in the rain hurriedly retreating from a curb when a cab drives through a large puddle). Unfortunately, Lansner adds very little other movement for her competent troupe of dancer-actor-singers -- Pat Hall (as Tina), Zainab Jah, Heather Lind, Paula McGonagle, Erica Bowen., McKenzie Frye, and Shekitra Starke -- to execute.
Occasionally, Lansner tries for something larger with even less felicitious results. In the "Tina's Chant" sequence, where Turner is agonizing over Ike's abusive behavior, Lansner resorts to diva snapthology and cliche reaching. Worse, in the absence of an Ike figure, the chest-slamming Hall does implies that she's abusing herself. Yet, it's unlikely that what Lansner meant to say is that victims are responsible for how they're treated.
Aside from the fast-paced, rhythm-and-blues "Treat You Like a Lady," which actually sounds as if Turner might have recorded it, Hamilton's music is hackneyed. Moreover, in a work purporting to illuminate the life and mind and painful predicament of a talented woman in the thrall of a talented, violent, drug-dependent man, the lyrics -- at least the ones you can actually make out -- overwhelmingly stress the generic.