The audience at TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL was mostly baby boomer. Which was fine by us. Because the audience was rapt. You felt the admiration, the place was oozing with it. With r-e-s-p-e-c-t for a formidable woman of entertainment, a force to be reckoned with: the late, great Tina Turner (1939-2023). The national touring company of her tribute show (she was its executive producer) opened at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles last week with love for Turner palpable in the room — surely due in great part to her so-recent death just weeks ago. The sight of a belting, gyrating woman mesmerizing all those eyes was a wonderment to gaze upon. But anyone who experienced Tina Turner live in-person got that directly from the real deal.
The show is essentially a revue — that word a direct lift from the name of the band in which Turner, nee Anna Mae Bullock, first came to prominence …. the Ike Turner Revue. The production numbers start with her musical roots in the Black church; journey through her formidable rhythm-and-blues repertoire; then land at her reemergence as a solo artist after lying fallow for years. Her decision to swap to rock and roll was magisterial. Presented as a nearly random choice, it’s what made her iconic and universally beloved.
The show is cut and pasted with a minimal script — only a handful of scenes have effective writing (the one played at her mother’s hospital bed comes to mind). The set, alas, is minimal (there is none, really, only projected images onto a backdrop, which is just dismal). Costumes by Mark Thompson, too, are minimalist — where the ‘Tina’ character is concerned, that’s a good thing. (I liked the line in which she says, “I don’t show my legs to be sexy. I show them so I can move them freely” or something to that effect.) But the numbers are the main attraction, and the two ladies who swap off in the role (since Turner’s death an even more humbling role to play) do Turner proud. They are Zurin Villanueva and Naomi Rogers. Both have vocal chops and both can dance.
A good supporting cast makes the most of negligible roles; memorable is Roderick Lawrence as Ike Turner. Turner’s late-life German-born husband Erwin, not the fault of actor Max Falls, comes across as a pet rock; he has no writing and is a cipher. None of the back-up dancers holds a candle to the killer ladies with whom this great diva surrounded herself. Not one. Get to dance class!! Their choreography is also weak which just seem inexcusable given the reams and reams of footage available to credited choreographer Anthony Van Laast. In my opinion, the show’s choreography needed to surpass Turner’s own (and at one point in Tina Turner’s career, choreography by Toni Basil). If only to put into posterity how utterly sensational it was.
Show, a presentation of Broadway in Hollywood, is recommended despite these quibbles. If you show up to spend some final time with Tina Turner, you’ll be glad you did.
PHOTOS: Zurin Villanueva and Naomi Rogers as ‘Tina Turner’ and The TINA Band in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022
TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL | Pantages Theatre | thru July 9