Tina: The Tina Turner Musical• May 30, 2023• Eccles Theater
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
It’s hard to believe that within a week of the great Tina Turner’s passing, I was sitting inside the beautiful Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, watching Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. As I walked into the theater I could overhear several conversations talking about the legend’s passing. Many patrons lined up to sign a memorial that was set out for Tina Turner. Some stated that they were looking forward to the show because they didn’t know much about her life. Others claimed to be the biggest Tina Turner fans ever and were excited to see the musical. Either way, there was a different buzz in the theater lobby. I wouldn’t quite call it a sadness but more like a reverence for the situation. The timing of the opportunity to see this show just after Tina’s passing did not seem lost on anyone.
*This review contains mild spoilers. If you haven’t seen the show yet, might I suggest you go watch Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and then come back and read this. If you’ve seen the production, then by all means proceed. *
Before the show began a cast member walked out in front of the curtain. She shared that the company of “Tina” were dedicating this show to the Rock n Roll legend. It was also mentioned that Tina Turner was directly involved with the creation of the production before it went to Broadway. The applause for Tina indicated to me that we were in for a good night. You never really know with Tuesday crowds. It’s opening night, it’s generally an older crowd, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be as lively as say, a weekend audience. But from the first applause, they seemed ready to go.
I hadn’t seen Tina: The Tina Turner Musical before this. So I was curious to see how they would incorporate her songs into the story. Some jukebox musicals do the songs chronologically, while others will place the songs within the show to fit the story. This musical did a bit of both. Which I found to be really creative, and clever.
The show begins with a pulsing beat. The beat and groove from the smash hit, “(Simply) The Best”. I thought, “Ok, this is going to be good. The show then quickly moves to Tina as a child and the first star of the show is revealed. Brianna Cameron played Young Anna Mae (Tina Turner’s real name). The Eccles crowd immediately fell in love with her. Her voice was mature beyond her years. She could blow the roof off the theater and people would be thanking her for the starlit view. She sounded amazing and while her time on stage was brief, she left a lasting impression for the rest of the night. Her applause at bows was as loud as anyone’s in the cast. I really loved her performance.
I realized while at this production that not everyone knew about Tina Turner’s life going into the musical. If we look at her life from her 40s on we see a powerful, independent, successful, and in control of her life woman. So at intermission, I saw quite a few people back in that lobby a little rattled. The first act is a little uncomfortable, to say the least. Tina watching her mother being hit by her dad, then later suffering physical abuse from her first husband, Ike Turner.
It’s difficult to watch someone go through that. Even if we’re just watching acting on a stage. It was done really well. Which means it’s disturbing in nature. They didn’t overdo it. But they got the point across just how bad the situation was. I think seeing it portrayed on stage like that shook people to get a sense of what domestic abuse might really be like. I think when we hear this happened to Tina Turner, we think it’s all fine because of how her life turned out. But watching it portrayed changes that narrative.
I thought this production did a masterful job of bringing us through the experience. One minute we’re tapping our feet and bobbing our heads to a Tina Turner classic, the very next minute we’re watching the seeing disturbing abuse taking place. It was uncomfortable to navigate the emotional swings the first act takes us on. But I think that was the point. It’s a tiny glimpse of what it must have been like. But a tiny glimpse like that was eye-opening.
Don’t get me wrong, the entire first act isn’t just sitting there and watching domestic abuse. There were a lot of entertaining moments. One of my favorites was when Ike and Tina went to Phil Spector’s recording studio to record “River Deep Mountain High”. Phil Spector is known for creating his “Wall of Sound” in his studio production. This musical contains large digital screens to depict certain locations, or concert effects throughout the show. I’ve never seen any visual more accurately portray what we hear in Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. The vibrance, the movement, the color, all combined to make us see what we were hearing. It was a powerful moment for someone like me, who loves that part of Rock n Roll history.
It’s impossible to discuss this musical any further without getting into Naomi Rodgers’ portrayal of Tina Turner. I wish I would have kept a stopwatch to record how long Rodgers is off-stage. If she leaves the stage it can’t be more than two minutes. The whole night! Even most of her costume changes are creatively and many times artistically done onstage. Now I understand that it’s typical for the lead of a musical to be on stage most of the time. But not like this. For reference, the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera is only on stage for like 45 minutes. Naomi was on stage for two and a half hours! It’s a test of endurance and Naomi more than passes that test.
I thought she did a remarkable job of portraying Tina throughout different stages of her life. When she would sing Tina Turner songs in a performance setting, rather than in a storytelling setting, she embodied Tina. Tina Turner had signature stage moves and poses and Naomi Rodgers did an amazing job capturing Turner’s likeness without making seem like we were at a Vegas tribute show. Not an easy thing to navigate. There were times she even sounded like Tina Turner. Again, not easy.
Tina Turner has such a unique voice that it must be impossible to perfectly mimic. I’m glad Rodgers’ didn’t attempt that. Naomi Rodgers has a powerful and unique voice of her own and I’m glad we were able to hear it. She did a great job of giving us the essence of Tina Turner by her phrasing, and tone. I think I would have been disappointed if she tried to sound just like her.
I’m glad she was able to shine the way she did. She played the big scenes big. She gave us all the energy that was required in those huge Tina Turner performances. But she also gave us these intimate and heartfelt moments where we were part of very vulnerable and inspiring times in Tina Turner’s life. There is a moment in Act II when Tina Turner is asking for a hotel room, not having the money to pay. She’s looking for a moment of mercy from the hotel attendance. Rodgers is the only one on stage. It’s as powerful and impactful of a moment as any of the big production numbers. I couldn’t help but get emotional. A dynamically brilliant performance by Naomi Rodgers.
It’s also nearly impossible to talk about this musical without bringing up the performance of Roderick Lawrence as Ike Turner. Again how do I say, “He did a great job playing a terrible person”? In most cases, we see TV shows, movies, or musicals and the villain is fictional. We want to dislike them, we love to hate them. But when the villain is a real person, who did very real things, it’s hard to be excited about a performance of that.
When Lawrence came out for his bow I thought, “How am I supposed to cheer for this guy?”. Until I remembered that he was playing Ike. He’s not actually Ike Turner. Which is a tribute to Roderick Lawrence and his portrayal of Ike Turner. He took us there. We felt the charisma of Ike, we felt the drive of Ike, and we felt the despicable actions and mentality of Ike. I was really impressed with Lawrence’s performance.
This is a story of triumph. So the trajectory of the second act is really fun to watch. To see Tina struggling to make ends meet in Las Vegas to going to London to try to make a comeback is much watch theater. The way this production uses the song “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is perfect. The song is what brought Tina Turner back into the mainstream. So the way the song fits into this musical is so good. There’s comedy, there’s drama, there’s romance, and there’s a determination by Tina Turner to have a say in her career. I was so engaged with this scene. There’s even a moment when we see her transform into the iconic 80s Tina look with the big hair, black leather skirt, and denim jacket.
This is when Tina Turner came into my life. I remember seeing the video on MTV. I thought she was a new star. My mom proceeded to educate me on all of Tina Turner’s past successes and songs. I was very interested in seeing this stage of Tina’s life play out on stage. It made me think that for each audience member, Tina came into their lives at a certain time, and when that time was being played out on stage must have been the time they locked in.
From “What’s Love Got to Do With It” on, it’s an inspiring ride to the top. I really enjoyed myself. It’s worth the ride to get to the end to see how things ended up for Tina. The love story between Tina and the true love of her life, Erwin Bach was really well done. There was legitimate chemistry between the characters. A feeling you never get even when Ike and Tina were at their best.
The orchestra, which performed live on stage, sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes visible to the audience was incredible. Their sound meant as much to this show as any actor in the ensemble. Speaking of ensembles, this is one of the best I have seen. So much vocal talent in one group. I’m holding onto my playbill because I know some of this cast will be leading a musical one day and I want to say that I saw them when they were in the ensemble of Tina.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a real-life inspirational tale of triumph over abuse. My hope is that it inspires those who feel stuck in a similar situation can come across this production and be inspired to leave as Tina Turner did. Tina left a lasting legacy of someone whose life became immensely better once she escaped her abuser. This is a musical worth seeing. And whatever you do, do not leave during the bows! For one, it’s rude. For two, there is more show to see. And it might be “Simply The Best” part of the show. I’m sorry. It had to be done.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is playing at Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City until June 4. Zurin Villanueva will be playing the role of Tina Turner in select performances.
Click here for tickets!