Ari Groover in TINA – The Tina Turner Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Music by Tina Turner
Book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
A review by Tory Parker
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.
Tina Turner is the queen of rock’n’roll. We would not have SO many of today’s most beloved divas, of all genders, without the icon that IS Tina. She is the blueprint, who bridged the sparkling flash of pop rock and the visceral grit of soul and blues and created something completely new.
She also had a hell of a life. It’s well-documented—documentaries, books, articles—Tina Turner’s life isn’t really a mystery to those curious to learn more. And it is a life so full of drama that, if you tried to put it on a stage as fiction, people would say you were being a bit heavy-handed in your imagining. But no! This musical is really the story of her life, made in conjunction with her while she was alive and featuring her richly diverse catalog of hits.
The show begins as Tina (Ari Groover) is about to walk onstage in front of (we later discover) over 100,000 people screaming her name. With a combination of her grandmother (Wydetta Carter) chanting, her father (Kristopher Stanley Ward) preacher altar calling, and her childhood self (Symphony King) appearing, we are yanked back to Nutbush, where it all began. While I don’t know what 9-year-old Anna-Mae (Tina’s given name) sounded like, I think Symphony King might have one of the best voices I’ve heard on a kid her age. Beyond that, she absolutely captured the rapt, trancelike state that Tina would be so famous for in her performances.
From the very beginning scene, we’re introduced to a not unexpected, but nonetheless startling element of the show, which is the relentless abuse and physical violence against our heroine. Tina’s father regularly beats her mother, (Roz White) and she has determined the only solution is to hit back. Tina’s mother, who never wanted her, abandons her to an absent and hateful father. Later, Ike Turner (Wildlin Pierrevil) treats everyone in his wake with blatant hostility masked by a charming facade. Still, he reserves his fists and backhands for Tina, who ultimately faces the same choice as her mother.
I can see the thought process behind the Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. What wonderful music, and what a fascinating life! The issue is that Tina’s life was NOT song and dance, for so much of it. She was abandoned, beaten, abused, forgotten, and taken advantage of. And while her music is wonderful, the juxtaposition between a beloved pop ballad coming out of a brutal fistfight is jarring. This would have been an incredible bio-pic featuring music. But the sparkling and megawatt acting that it takes to do a show like this on stage doesn’t always lend itself to telling this story with the delicacy it deserves, and it sometimes felt awkward at best and darkly comical at worst.
It’s massively helpful that everyone in the cast is doing amazing work. Pierrevil and White as Ike and Zelma make it easy to hate them, but never easy to laugh at. Both are genuinely bone-chilling. The joyful and fun ensemble fills the stage with sparkles and that singular Tina flair.
Groover as Tina is a WONDER! How she manages the whole show is beyond me. She eases gracefully from the excitement of 17-year-old Tina, fresh to the big city of St. Louis, to middle-aged Tina, finally finding her footing and claiming her voice. And after ALL that, she still brings the house down with two show-stopping encores at the end.
Did I mention show STOPPING encores? Two? And the initial finale itself should also count because the crowd is going wild. Whatever might feel strange in the midst of Tina, the ending will have you forgetting it. We will never again get to see a live Tina Turner concert—and it feels like this show knows that it is bearing the weight of that reality. For so many, this is as close as we’ll ever come. If you love Tina Turner and want to bask in that glory, don’t miss Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. You owe it to a woman, who was so mistreated in her pursuit of artistic excellence, to know the story that made the legend.
All cast and creative details: https://tinaonbroadway.com/cast-creative/#tour-cast
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
November 28 – December 3, 2023
PNC Broadway in Louisville
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 W Main Street
Louisville, KY 40206
Tory Parker, originally from West Virginia, is now a proud Kentuckian as well. In Louisville, she’s worked and/or performed with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company OutCast, SHOTZ, Highview Arts Center, and director Emily Grimany. She is a co-founding artist of the queer theatre collaborative, three witches shakespeare, and of Untitled Louisville Theatre Company. As a playwright, her full-length drama, Recommended for You, appears in Stage It and Stream It: Plays for Virtual Theatre, and her original works have appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival Fringe Festival.