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TINA – The Tina Turner Musical Features Electrifying Performances and Iconic Songs
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical runs through Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway in Detroit.
The “jukebox musical” has become a theater staple, a genre that pays homage to a wide variety of popular performers from The Four Seasons (Jersey Boys) to such stars as Cher, Donna Summer and, most recently, Michael Jackson, to name a few. While these shows often include interesting backstories about the musicians’ journey to fame, in most instances it’s about the music.
In that regard, the current touring production of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical does not disappoint. Playing at the Detroit Opera House through Dec. 18, this high-energy musical, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed by Anthony van Laast, explodes across the stage with a momentum that starts in the first scene and keeps on building through the final curtain call.
After opening in London in 2018, the show, written by Olivier-Award winning playwright Katori Hall (with Frank Kettelaar and Kees Prins), debuted on Broadway the following year. There, it received 12 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, before a long hiatus due to the pandemic that shuttered theaters across the country. Earlier this year, the show embarked on a North American tour acclaimed for its dynamic performances and accurate renditions of the songs that made Tina Turner the undisputed Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The story chronicles the life of the iconic star, from her childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her abusive relationship with musical partner and husband Ike, to her phenomenal success as a solo artist. She experienced personal and professional setbacks against the backdrop of an industry that did not look kindly upon people of color, especially women. Despite these obstacles, she had the courage to escape an horrific situation and the extraordinary talent to follow her dreams to stardom.
The role of Tina is shared by Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva on alternating nights. On opening night, it was Villanueva’s turn, and her vocals, dance moves and boundless energy are remarkable. She replicates Tina Turner’s husky yet powerful voice in songs that range from “I Can’t Stand the Rain” to a pulse-pounding version of “Proud Mary.”
Ike is played by Garrett Turner (no relation), the man who gave Tina her start but could not give up his need for control nor the destructive behavior that eventually derailed his career and led to his death from a drug overdose. This production does not sugarcoat his abusive nature, and the scenes depicting his hair-trigger temper and violent behavior can be difficult to watch.
The musical spans more than four decades of Tina’s life, from her childhood as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, through her record-breaking 1988 concert in Brazil, attended by 180,000 fans. As a result, the show provides glimpses, rather than details, about her involvement with Buddhism, which she has credited with saving her life, her struggles with the pervasive racism, ageism and misogyny of the music business, and her complicated relationship with her mother, sister and sons.
In addition to Villaneuva, whose singing and dancing is nothing short of electrifying, the most impressive performance comes from Ayvah Johnson as the childhood version of Tina. Her powerful voice and spunky stage presence are the embodiment of star quality.
Other excellent actors include Ann Nesby as the grandmother who raised Tina when her parents abandoned her and Roz White as Tina’s mother, Velma, who left her young daughter behind to escape her own abusive marriage.
The sets and costumes by Mark Thompson are appropriately eye-popping. An ever-changing array of projected images reflects the various eras and locals depicted in the story. The talented musicians, unseen behind a backdrop during the show, join the cast onstage for a spirited three-song encore that brought audience members to their feet and kept them cheering until the final curtain fell.