From its opening moments of Naomi Rodgers seated with her back to the audience in a red leather minidress and spiked blond wig in a lotus position chanting the Buddhist mantra TINA ignited loud cheers from the open night audience of The Tina Turner Musical in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
Tina Turner expressed doubts about creating a musical about her life but participated in its creation and it was an instant hit in London in 2018 and then garnered 12 Tony Nominations and a win for Adrienne Warren when it opened on Broadway the following year. After the industry shutdown reopened in 2020 and is now on a 30-city national tour.
So called jukebox musicals present many challenges, playwright Katori Hall’s tight script goes for more than dramatizing sketchy lead-ins to hit songs. Hall isn’t able to completely avoid some dizzyingly condensed character exposition and clunky plot points between the big numbers.
Phydilla Lloyd who directed the original production in London, on Broadway and this, US tour admirably navigates the Hall’s sometimes jarring theatrical arc. Along the way the show packs in two dozen hit songs, some adapted to support or comment on the scene drama, others straight restaging of many of Tina’s most famous stage performances.
The story recounts Turner’s life from her troubled broken family raised in Nutbush, Tennessee, taken in by her grandmother, then joining her mother and sister in St. Louis, where, at 17, her sister takes her to a nightclub where Ike Turner’s band was playing. Ike was a sexy local rocker looking for the right female singer to front the band.
They stay together for a dozen years before Tina finally escapes the grueling pace of performing and Ike’s abusive behavior Tina ends up on the Vegas skids surviving on a disco lounge act, deep in debt and about to lose her home and kids. But is scouted by a young British producer Roger Davies, Tina was able to do what she wanted to do, transforming herself in an international rock royalty with a blazing solo career on stage and a string of no. 1 hit albums.
Outstanding supporting cast starting with Garret Turner as the controlling, philandering, drug addicted Ike. Taylor Blackman is terrific as Raymond, whose short affair with Tina and frames their duet ‘Let’s Stay Together.’
Stealing your heart in their scenes are Ann Nesby as Tina’s grandmother and Ayvah Johnson as young Anna Mae whose singing is, always ‘too loud’ for church according to her mother Zelma, played with biting comic flair by Roz White.
Zachary Freier-Harrison’s animated performance as British music producer Roger Davies, who caught Tina’s Vegas show and got her to record her first smash solo album has goofy charm as does the scenes of Tina falling in love with German producer Erwin Bach, (Tina’s future husband) but Max Fall and Rodgers have enough chemistry to make it work.
Vocally, Rodgers leans into some of Turner’s signatures, but doesn’t attempt an imitation, doesn’t for, possess Tina’s blues rawness rasp that is pure rocked out Turner. Rodgers’ voice is more tremolo, than raspy. More of a match on lower register songs ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ and ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It.’ .But in all ways this is a vocally gutsy, electrifying performance.
‘Proud Mary’ is flawlessly high-octane with Tina and the Ikettes in sequined thigh- high minis, spiked heels ‘rolling on the river’ choreo, and leads to a showdown with Ike, where he brutally beats her, which drew many gasps from the audience, but when she fights back and kicks him where his basso notes live, the audience cheered.
Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is a survey of choreography from the razor-precision of the Turner Revue flash dances of the 60s to stylized Vegas showdance of ‘Disco Inferno’ and Tina’s smoldering struts and funk moves of her solo career.
The climactic scene of a sober, broke, repentant Ike and back in touch with Tina’s terminally ill mother, and Tina and her mother try to navigate a lifetime of emotional issues is serviceable, but dramatically rushed.
The staging of the hit ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ begins as an incantation by Gran Georgeanna appearing in a ring shout ritual, which leads to Tina triumphant finale in front of 180,000 roaring fans. and this audience at the Academy, similarly, sounded like a soccer stadium. For Tina’s two encores of ‘Simply the Best’ and ‘Proud Mary’ with everyone in the cast ‘Rolling on the River’ with that iconic Ikette choreography is shamelessly Broadway goofy..
Musical Director Anne Shuttlesworth leads the 12-piece band, half with local musicians cover the blues, soul, R&B, rock waterfront. And the sound has admirable dimension, owing to the stellar orchestrations by Ethan Popp.