Mentioning the name ‘Tina Turner’ conjures myriad images of her performances complete with full-throttle dancing, singing, sweating and general jubilation. It also brings to mind her difficult and circuitous path to herself. The musical ‘Tina,’ based on Tina Turner’s life currently at the Hollywood Pantages Theater delivers the high energy and caliber of performance that we’ve all come to know from a Tina Turner performance. The entire cast and technicians of the show operate at a thousand volts coming straight at you from every prospect of the stage.
It certainly helps that this production is ‘in association with’ Tina Turner herself. Tina Turner and Erwin Bach both Executive Produced this show giving it what can only be considered their seal of approval. The Sunday evening show had Zurin Villanueva in the role of Tina. Not only did she have Tina’s mannerisms effectively in place, but Villanueva’s actual inflection while singing certain numbers was spot on. It can’t be easy to match Tina’s vocal range and sheer intensity of spirit, however Villanueva managed it beautifully for the entirety of the show. Her energy output was astonishing considering her amount of stage time, and then after the bows, she turned around and handed the audience a high-voltage encore!
Other stand-outs among a fantastic ensemble are Roz White as Zelma, Tina’s mother, and Roderick Lawrence as a mercurial, if not highly strung Ike Turner. Carla R. Stewart as Tina’s Gran Georgianna lends a stable, loving influence when Tina needs it most. We are also treated to Ayvah Johnson playing a young Tina or Anna-mae and holds her own on a stage packed with seasoned voices. Her own voice comes out loud and clear among all the others. She has a great presence onstage and can move, as demonstrated in the encore. The ‘Ikettes’ – Aliyah Caldwell, Reyna Guerra, Takia Hopson, and Parris Lewis all deliver in their singing and dancing, especially when Ike turns up the speed of the choreography to make it more exciting.
From the beginning of the show the lighting design by Bruno Poet is another character, deftly adding excitement or mood to whatever is transpiring onstage. It gets amped up towards the finale to a fabulous rock n’ roll level. The projection design by Jeff Sugg added a nice touch to certain dramatic scenes and helped make them hit home. The music is, of course, brilliant. We are treated throughout to songs we know and love as well as subtle orchestrations of those we do not. All add to the arc of the storyline. Kudos to Ethan Popp for Orchestration, John Miller as Music Coordinator, Nevin Steinberg for Sound Design, and Anne Shuttlesworth as Music Director/Conductor. The Band has fun with this show, and it is obvious when Villanueva introduces some of the soloists during the finale.
The show underlines what Tina Turner went through during her life in terms of racism, sexism and ageism. We see her deal with all three as well as an abusive relationship. The brilliant thing to remember is that she was, is, and always will be remembered as a performer. There is a hilarious number where Tina is performing in her Vegas review, and we are meant to see that all aspects of the show are not in keeping with Tina’s personal artistic integrity. We are treated to some earnest but slap-dash choreography by way of intensely focused back-up dancers. What makes this scene so satisfying are the faces of the performers while executing their choreography. ‘Executing’ being the operative word. They are all very funny.
One aspect of the show which did not match the caliber of every other was the Fight Choreography. There were a few of the fights that took us out of the story by being too telegraphed. Some slaps happened a full-three feet from the intended target and this dropped the intensity of the scene and read as unbelievable.
I am not embarrassed to say that I shed a few tears during this show. Anyone growing up watching Tina Turner, first with the ‘Ike and Tina Turner Review,’ then by herself on many TV shows, couldn’t help but be blown away by her energy when she performed. She out-danced every back-up dancer and kept singing and moving at warp speed for every song. She was a force of nature. ‘Tina’ shows us that her performing was not mere pantomime or a call for attention; she HAD to do it that way. There was no other way for her to be in the world but like that, onstage. This show about her life captures that energy. The show celebrates not only a survivor but a creator who manifests her talent in the very act of creation onstage. There is a kind of divinity in someone who finds their talent and channels it. Their means of expression affecting anyone lucky enough to witness it. That was her. Her story ends much more happily than it began. We have her on tape, on video, records, etc., and thankfully this production stands as a tribute to her extraordinary life.
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical runs through July 9, 2023. For more information about the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles, please visit their website.
If you missed it at the Pantages, TINA – The Tina Turner Musical will be playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts July 11, 2023 – July 23, 2023. For more information and tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Nkeki Obi-Melekwe and The Cast of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical – Photo by Manuel Harlan