By Michael Buzzelli
Anyone who has seen the 1993 movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” or read the 1986 autobiography, “I, Tina,” knows that the relationship between Tina Turner (Ari Groover) and Ike Turner (Garrett Turner) was tumultuous. “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is an energetic, Cliff Notes version of the Queen of Rock & Roll’s triumphant rise to fame after her famous divorce written by Katori Hall (creator of TV’s “P-Valley) with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins.
The story starts at a massive concert venue in Brazil. Right before Tina takes to the stage, the self-proclaimed Baptist-Buddhist chants “nam-myōhō-renge-kyō.”
Flashback to young Anna-Mae Bullock (an amazing Ayvah Johnson) taking the lead in the church choir back in Nutbush, Tennessee. Her mellifluous-albeit- loud voice is an embarrassment to her mother, Zelma (Rox White). Things between mother and daughter don’t improve. Zelma skips out on her husband (Kristopher Stanley Ward). Then, her dad leaves. Anna-Mae moves in with her grandmother (Ann Nesby).
At sixteen, she was sent to St. Louis to live with her mom. Once there, Anna-Mae meets Ike and rechristens her Tina Turner (in a proprietary way – not yet in a legal way).
Things get rocky pretty fast, but the Ike and Tina Turner Revue keeps rolling (rolling) along on tour. Until she can’t take the abuse anymore and flees with .36 cents in her pocket.
In her forties, Tina Turner has to reinvent herself once more. With the help of Roger Davies (Zachary Fereier-Harrison) she does just that, and the rest, as they say, is history…or, in this case, herstory.
Groover isn’t Tina Turner, but she is setting her own star into the firmament. She rocks out with vivacious charm. Part of the gig is imitating a world-renown celebrity and its an intimidating gig. If you can separate yourself from the True Tina and take Groover for her own unique talent, you’ll have more fun.
Note: Lonnie the Theater Lady claims that the original Broadway cast was better, and that Adrienne Warren was Tina 2.0, looking and sounding like the iconic pop star.
We may not need another hero, but Groover is the hero(ine) of the national tour, moving and grooving for almost the entire 2 hours and forty-seven minute run of the musical. She is phenomenal.
Garrett Turner (not to be confused with any of the original family members) plays a villainous Ike. Yes, there’s some nuance, but this is from Tina’s POV and not his. The Real Life Ike wrote a rebuttal to Tina Turner’s autobiography, “I, Tina,” in an autobiography titled, “Taking Back My Name.”
Zelma also gets very few nuance, but she is played with panache by White.
There’s a terrific cameo by Geoffrey Kidwell playing the notorious record producer Phil Spector.
For some reason, jokes in musicals are big and broad. Often, the writers tend to pander to the lowest common denominator. Freier-Harrison is delightful as Roger Davies. He is able to transcend some of the cornier lines he has to utter with wit and charm. When Davies meets Tina Turner for the first time, his reaction is joyous, continually telling her, “You’re Tina Turner!” As if she didn’t know.
“Tina – the Tina Turner Musical” is filled with pomp and circumstance. It revels in being over-the-top. Bruno Poet’s lighting design is flashy and exuberant. Jeff Sugg’s projection design adds additional layers to the show. In a powerful scene, Tina, on a cold, wet street in London, feels alone in the world. The lighting and projection go above and beyond to tug on your heartstrings, bathing the stage in deep blues and cold grays. The ensemble in dark coats and black umbrellas bustles around her.
The end is bright and beautiful. “Tina – the Tina Turner Musical,” proves, once and for all, that the rock legend is “Simply the Best!”
Additional note: Stay after the curtain call. Much like a real concert, the show continues after the cast clasps hands and bows.
“Tina” runs from April 4 to April 9 at the Benedum 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.