Disclaimer: I received two tickets to Tina – The Tina Turner Musical through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center for the purpose of this review. All the opinions are my own.
If you grew up in the 80s, you may remember the battle cries that Tina Turner belted out over the radio and on MTV. As a young teen in the 80s, I didn’t really understand the meaning behind What’s Love Got to Do With It?
After watching Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, I realized that her powerful female anthem represents so much more than second hand emotion and a line from a classic song. It represents how Tina tried to shake an old identity as she embarked on a new life without Ike Turner and eventually, a new found love.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical opens with Tina sitting on the floor chanting a Buddhist prayer before she enters a concert arena of hundreds of thousands of fans. The audience then transports back in time to Tina’s youth in Nutbrush where Young Ana-Mae (Ayvah Johnson) shines bright in church. And boy, Ayvah Johnson has got some pipes!
The simplicity of the scenes, particularly the use of chairs for the choreography in the church scene, Nutbrush City Limits reminded me of The Color Purple. A lack of elaborate and monolithic set designs allows the songs to tell the story. The barebones set also represents a slow, modest build up to the larger than life ending for the Queen of Rock and Roll. SPOILER ALERT: Tina – The Tina Turner Musical saves the best and biggest set for the closing number.
As the years progress, boy meets girl. Anna-Mae (Zurin Villanueva) crosses paths with Ike Turner (Garrett Turner) in a juke joint where he challenges young girls to sing along so we can choose his next lead female singer to front his band. Like a predator on the hunt, Ike searches for his next prey; a victim he can control rather than a star and a
victim star, Tina, is born.
If you are familiar with their story, you may know Ike abused Tina and their very rocky marriage. Watching the physical and mental abuse happen before my eyes made me uneasy; I was not prepared to witness the abuse or her near death experience. However, we had to witness what Tina endured to understand what motivated her to finally turn her life around and be reborn.
The incredible vocals of Zurin Villanueva makes Tina’s sour story palatable. The outstanding vocal range of Villanueva does more than channel Tina. Villanueva embodies the heart and soul of the Queen of Rock and Roll. (Incidentally, Villanueva shares the role equally with Naomi Rodgers, as playing such a roll must take its toll on their vocals.
As the villain of the story, Garrett Turner (no relation to Ike) brings the soulfulness and the essence of Ike Turner. Although playing the role of a narcistic sociopath cannot be good for his soul when boos and hisses propel from the crowd during curtain call. I hope Turner realizes that means he played the role incredibly well. The audience’s inability to differentiate between acting and real life is not a reflection of his performance. The audience just really hates Ike Turner.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical comes full circle as the closing scene mirrors the opening scene with Tina chanting before the concert. To the audience’s delight, everyone has a seat at the Private Dancer concert tour and it’s (Simply) The Best.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is now playing at the Straz Center. Catch now until Sunday, February 5.
Find showtimes and tickets at www.strazcenter.org.