Sensory overload. Spectacular. Breathtaking. Those were my impressions of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical. With a book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, the show revolves around thunder-voiced Tina Turner, aka Anna Mae Bullock, and terrible-tempered music legend Ike Turner. With Director Phyllida Lloyd at the helm, several moving parts came together to create a rousing crowd-pleaser.
Star Naomi Rodgers has the piston-pumping legs, booming voice, and energetic dance steps to drive this show to the stars. Rodgers was also fantastic in her dramatic scenes, such as those with her grandmother, Gran Georgeanna (Anny Nesby from the legendary gospel-pop group Sounds of Blackness), and her mother, Zelma Bullock, the always magnificent Roz White (a veteran of such shows as the Dreamgirls national tour).
A jukebox biopic should marry the songs chronologically with the narrative. However, this show is more of a rock concert and less of a bona fide marriage of storytelling and music. Some songs in this show are anachronistic in their placement in the plot.
In one of the show’s earliest and most significant scenes, the young Anna Mae Bullock (the wonderful Ayvah Johnson) outperforms the choir in a 1950s small-town Tennessee church, inspiring the congregation with her inspired gospel performance of “Nutbush City Limits.”
After Zelma left her abusive, preacher husband, Richard Bullock (played with sternness by Carlton Terrence Taylor), Anna Mae’s grandmother Georgeanna encouraged her to move up north from Tennessee to join her mother and older sister Alline (Parris Lewis) in St. Louis so she could make the most use of her gift—her voice. In a St. Louis nightclub, Anna Mae and Alline saw Kings of Rhythm frontman Ike Turner, who picked Anna Mae out of the crowd to sing “She Made My Blood Run Cold.”
Garrett Turner played Ike Turner to near perfection. His performance had it all: the macho swagger, the marketing genius, and the cruelty.
Ike ruled his group, The Ikettes, like a tyrant. He also made Anna Mae change her name, and the act became The Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Tina’s relationship with the naive band member Raymond was harmed by Ike’s dominance. Taylor A. Blackman gave Raymond gentleness in the way he loved Tina. Tina’s breakup with Raymond yielded one of the more awkwardly inserted musical numbers: the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together,” which Turner covered in 1983 and made into a comeback hit.
The show featured many of its more thrilling songs as Tina’s career flourished, including “I Want to Take You Higher,” “River Deep — Mountain High,” directed by producer Phil Spector (the amusing Geoffrey Kidwell), and “Proud Mary.” The “River Deep — Mountain High” scene was pure psychedelic bliss.
In the second act, we see Tina’s 1980s reinvention. The show gives time to characters like Tina’s friend Rhonda (Gracie Phillips); the Australian talent manager Roger Davies (Zachary Freier-Harrison), who helped her find a new musical direction; and Erwin Bach, the devoted and encouraging German record company marketing executive who would become Tina’s second husband. As Bach, Max Falls created touching and romantic scenes with Rodgers.
After the passing of her mother, Zelma, Tina sang the “Mad Max” theme song, “Beyond the Thunderdome,” which I found odd. To link the lyrics of that song with that plot point, the audience must make a significant logical leap.
The show’s highlights included Tina’s hits: “Private Dancer,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and “(Simply) The Best.” Rodgers was simply phenomenal in the energy and vocals she displayed. Those numbers and all the others were fueled by Anthony Van Laast’s choreography and Dance Coach Shari Washington Rhone.
Rodgers wasn’t the only one who contributed memorable vocals. Nesby brought verve to “Etherland—Sound of Mystic Law” and White contributed to “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”
Jeff Sugg’s (a Tony Award nominee) spot-on projection design was an unsung star of the show. It didn’t matter if the show needed a seedy hotel in the Deep South or the cityscape of St. Louis, Sugg’s projections did the trick. Because of the many domestic violence scenes in the show, Fight Captain Chris Stevens’ work was crucial.
Even though the slaps and punches in the domestic violence scenes were hard to watch, they were effective in telling the story. Music Director Anne Shuttlesworth, Music Supervisor Nicholas Skilbeck, and Music Coordinator John Miller were responsible for much of the show’s musical power. Mark Thompson’s costumes, especially the ones worn by Tina, were spectacular.
You will be enthused and moved by TINA – The Tina Turner Musical. You don’t need to take a bus to New York City to see this show; it’s Broadway-quality right here in Washington, DC.
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical plays through October 23, 2022, at National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. Tickets ($65–$150) can be purchased online.
COVID Safety: Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticketholders. Broadway at The National requests patrons and staff to stay home if they are feeling ill to protect other patrons, cast, crew, and staff. See National Theatre’s COVID Safety Plan here.
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical
Tina Turner: Naomi Rodgers
Ike Turner: Garrett Turner
Zelma Bullock: Roz White
Gran Georgeanna: Anny Nesby
Rhonda: Gracie Phillips
Phil Spector: Geoffrey Kidwell
Club Announcer: Carlton Terrence Taylor
Raymond: Taylor A. Blackman
Ikette #1: Shari Washington Rhone
Ikette #2: Reyna Guerra
Ikette#3: Takia Hopson
Ikette#4: Parris Lewis
Roger Davies: Zachary Freier-Harrison
Craig: Andre Hinds
Alline: Parris Lewis
Richard Bullock: Carlton Terrence Taylor
Erwin Bach: Max Falls
Carpenter, Tv Host, 2nd Police Officer, Martyn: Chris Stevens
Ronnie: Antonio Beverly
Young Alline, Young Craig: Lillian Charles
Young Anna-Mae: Ayvah Johnson
ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Book: Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg
Dance Coach: Shari Washington Rhone
Fight Captain: Chris Stevens
Music Director: Anne Shuttlesworth
Music Supervisor: Nicholas Skilbeck
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast
Set and Costumes: Mark Thompson
Lighting Design: Bruno Poet