Review: Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Blumenthal PAC
By Perry Tannenbaum
Open your playbill at Belk Theater to the cast list of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and you’ll find that two women are starring in the title role, Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva. So the question instantly confronted me: what gives? Not having seen any clarification in the touring show’s signage on the way in, I was on the alert for a pre-show announcement. Sure enough, we heard that tonight we should ready ourselves for Villanueva.
Well before Villanueva made her final exit two hours and 50 minutes later, I could easily understand why Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the Broadway production, had opted for double-casting. In fact, with all the energy and fire that Villanueva expended on Queen Tina – dancing, shouting, and belting – I was mildly in awe of the fact that Rodgers hadn’t been brought in as a relief singer on opening night. That would have been an acceptable way to preserve our headliner’s fire and energy for her next performance.
Tasked with stringing together two dozen songs with a coherent bio-musical book, playwright Katori Hall glides over the years, toughens Tina, and struggles to make sense of her hardships and her comeback. Compared to The Mountaintop, Hall’s acclaimed MLK drama, this script is hardly even a foothill. Lloyd’s frenetic pacing isn’t exactly helpful to the storytelling, but the wayward Belk sound system, not at all as ceaselessly overbearing as it was last month for Jagged Little Pill, still wasn’t tack sharp at a softer volume.
Maybe that was a blessing in disguise, considering how the garbled lyrics prevented us from scrutinizing the strange, sometimes weird connections between hits like “Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and “River Deep – Mountain High” and their place in Hall’s storyline.
As Ike Turner, Garrett Turner (no relation) is called upon to intimidate and bully a force of nature. Just about everyone knows about the Queen of Rock and Roll’s humiliating marriage walking into the theater, yet I was still shocked by the explosions of dragon fire (or phlegm) that Turner breathed into Ike. And I marveled at how much dirtier he sounded when he sang Ike’s signature “Rocket 88,” regarded by many as the fountainhead of rock. The edge he brings to his predatory marriage proposal – and his subsequent confrontation with Tina’s lover – is chilling.
The other men who revolve around Tina are also Broadway caliber, including Geoffrey Kidwell as record producer Phil Spector, Zachary Freier-Harrison as manager Roger Davies, and Max Falls as German music exec – and future husband – Erwin Bach. Lael Van Keuren as Rhonda, the small-time road manager who graciously gives way to Roger, is also very fine. Since Bach and Turner are the executive producers here, we can assume that all historical inaccuracies and fabrications have earned their seal of approval.
Tina diehards could have been disappointed only by the rendition of her iconic “Proud Mary,” aborted midway by the singer because Ike had yanked her out of a maternity ward to perform it. The two guys sitting next to me outsmarted themselves by walking out during the curtain calls. They missed out on the reprises of “Nutbush City Limits” and the full “rough” half of “Proud Mary,” where Villanueva, emptying her tank, was even more electrifying than she had been during the show.
One last stunner.