Review: A High Energy and Ebullient Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

I grew up watching shows like Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand. The most memorable act was the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. The Ikettes formed a backdrop to the long-legged Anna Mae Bullock—rechristened Tina by Ike Turner. Broadway in Chicago brought that time back with the touring production, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. This production is smoothly directed by Phyllida Lloyd with glittering choreography by Anthony van Laast. It was a two-hour trip back in time and what a ride.

Zurin Villanueva does a star turn as Tina Turner. She possesses a vocal range that hits the lower notes of Turner's comeback hit Private Dancer and soars on What's Love Got to Do With It. Villanueva has the moves down and looks fantastic in reproductions of Turner's thigh-skimming fringe dresses and the famous black leather dress with a denim jacket.

Zurin Villanueva and Ann Nesby. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made.

Garrett Turner gives a searing and eerie performance as Ike Turner (no relation). The book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketellar, and Kees Prins gives some depth to Ike Turner rather than the one-dimensional Svengali that the public has known for decades. Ike Turner is credited with writing the first rock and roll song, Rocket 88. His song was recorded by someone else without recognition. Turner evokes the pain and racial trauma that stoked Ike Turner's bitterness and narcissism.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical delves into the mysticism and religious fervor that sustained little Anna Mae, played by a breakout star, Ayvah Johnson. Anna Mae is chided by her mother Zelma (Roz White) for singing too loud and getting the Holy Ghost in church. White is fantastic as Turner's mother, who resents her youngest daughter for merely existing. Zelma leaves Anna Mae with her Gran Georgianna (Ann Nesby) when she moves to St. Louis with her older daughter Alline (Parris Lewis). Nesby is wonderful as a fount of love who imbues a Southern mysticism into Anna Mae. Gran tells Anna Mae to call on the ancestors whenever she felt fear.

Garrett Turner. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made.

This production sticks closely to Turner's autobiography, I Tina. However, the music that inspired a legion of rock musicians such as Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger is not played in order. Songs like Private Dancer and Let's Stay Together are used to move the plot along. Villanueva finds her "Tina voice" when she sings River Deep Mountain High for Phil Spector, played by a very funny Geoffrey Kidwell, who is even more hilarious as producer and songwriter Terry Britten. Whatever order the songs are in, they are on point with the inflections and distinct timbre of Tina Turner.

The orchestra is excellent under the baton of Anne Shuttlesworth. They have a thrilling Broadway sound that makes the lights and special effects even more spectacular. If you are a fan of Tina Turner you will not be disappointed. Villanueva raises the roof, and the party continues after the curtain call with a reprise of Proud Mary. That amazing hair tossing, whole bodies in motion choreography will bring you to your feet like it did that night. I highly recommend Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. It feels great to emerge from the pandemic with an enthusiastic and happy crowd. I still recommend wearing a mask to enjoy yourself confidently.

Ayvah Johnson (far right) as young Anna Mae. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical plays at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. The show clocks in at 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Performances are through April 2. Tickets range from $52.50 to $152.50. For more information, please visit www.broadwayinchicao.com.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.