Review by Nathan Top
What would you be willing to suffer to make your voice heard? If your spirit had something to say, what would you sacrifice to get that message through? In Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” these questions are explored through the career of one of America’s greatest musical legends, Tina Turner.
With a book by Kees Prins, Frank Ketelaar, and Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall, “Tina” is a dramatically heavy biopic that follows Turner’s rise to fame and the obstacles she had to overcome. Centering on her tortured relationship with her mother Zelma and collaboration/marriage with her abusive band leader and husband, Ike Turner, the narrative is tumultuous and painful but the story is ultimately hopeful, a parable of overcoming obstacles and triumphing through one’s own convictions. Combined with a score of Tina Turner’s greatest hits, the two-hour-forty-five minute show flies by at a breakneck pace, covering a significant portion of a story spanning eight decades.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, the show is emotionally engaging to the core. While the span of the show is wide, occasionally too wide, Lloyd’s direction creates an intimacy with the heroine while, at the same time, embracing the larger-than-life rock concert aspect of the show.
Between lighting designer Bruno Poet and costume/set designer Mark Thompson, the big musical numbers are big, bright, and visually memorable. Music director and conductor Anne Shuttleworth’s work is apparent with a sensational cast and engaging pit orchestra; the musical numbers are (expectedly) the highlight of the show.
Zurin Villanueva is sensational as the titular Tina, performing the heck out of the vocally demanding score as well as embracing the more intimate moments of Tina’s life with vulnerability and strength. Garrett Turner is vocally adequate as the raspy baritone Ike Turner, embracing the dislikable and broken character and giving the audience an empathetic yet odious villain to root against.
Roz White (Turner’s mother Zelma) exudes phenomenal stage chemistry with the lead, butting heads and cashing in on the exquisit tension between the two most dominant forces of the show. Ayvah Johnson gives one of the best young actor stage performances I have seen in recent memory as Young Anna-Mae, probably the biggest and most delightful surprise of the evening.
The large ensemble cast is tireless and energetic, moving from dance number to dance number, the show is understandably athletic and enthralling. By the end of the show, the story has eventually devolved into what the audience would expect from a Tina Turner musical, a raucous and joyful concert.
If big musical numbers and electric biographical drama is your flavor of theater, you won’t want to miss “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” Running now through November 6th, tickets can be purchased here.