A clear Tony nomination and probable win for multi-talented Adrienne Warren – currently the hardest working lead on Broadway – Tina is a jukebox musical carried by a good cast and warm memories rather than original treatment or content. The end result allows for weakness of the latter in favor of the former. It’s fun, but I have to say I agree with journalist Terry Treachout that the influx of jukebox musicals is not the best use of Broadway real estate. Freshness is being shut out in favor of bankable compilations.
Tina is neatly bookended by the icon’s Buddhist chant (implied as habitual) preceding a concert before 180,000 adoring Brazilians. Her young lover, Erwin Bach (thoroughly appealing Ross Lekites), returns to propose, the kids are all right, there’s money in the bank – all’s right with the world. Don’t put your coat on too quickly; multiple, fully staged encores follow. (Whew!)
Segueing into a glimpse of her poor Tennessee childhood, we meet young Anna-Mae Bullock, Tina as a child (the terrific Skye Dakota Turner, who needs to learn where to look), and her family – Mother Zelma (Dawnn Lewis) abandons her youngest, taking only Alline (Mars Rucker) to a better life in St. Louis. Gran Georgeanna (a sympathetic Myra Lucretia Taylor), raises her with much needed love until, at 17, Anna-Mae rejoins cold, critical Zelma. Scenes are brief but effective.
We then track Anna-Mae’s career from the evening she’s “acquired by” charismatic Svengali, Ike Turner (Daniel J. Watts- chillingly real). Wildly promiscuous, a drug addict, and mean, he nonetheless propels her to success as Tina Turner. The price? Constant emotional and physical abuse. Why Tina agrees to marry the megalomaniac is a question for the ages, especially if, as is dramatized here, she had an alternative. The band’s star rises.
Eventually, Tina is discovered by and makes a solo recording with Phil Spector. (Here, Ike is pushed out at the last minute or certainly would’ve stopped it.) By now, she’s stayed with him for 16 years. A knock down drag out fight that predicates finally fleeing into the night is well staged. (Sordelet Inc.) The icon recently told media Tina’s depiction doesn’t scratch the surface of what was actually endured. None of this is a surprise.
Well known songs are inserted into the script with the hit or miss of material not written for the piece. You can analyze intention or just let them wash over as the nature of the beast.
Capitol Records (shortsighted and apparently bigoted) passes on the recording. We next see Tina four months in rent arrears, furniture about to be repossessed; scrubbing toilets during the day, singing at night; raising two sons with litigious Ike at her heels. Only The Revue’s former road manager, Rhonda (Jessica Rush), sticks by her.
Visionary A & R man Roger Davies (Charlie Franklin) fights against the business that dispensed with Tina as a has-been in order to produce her new rock and roll incarnation. (Alline calls it “white music.”) Despite wanting and needing the transition/work, the artist is pointedly difficult in the face of what she perceives as more men who want to control her. (Good for the book for not making this all smiles.) We all know the outcome. A brief negotiation scene replete with financial figures is telling. Then 45 year-old Tina Turner explodes on the scene with literal vengeance.
Adrienne Warren sings and dances like a barely contained firework. We believe characterization even in small moments. The artist looks at our faces, connecting as she sings – highly unusual for a stage musical and extremely effective. Warren has been working towards this for some time. (She was great in the short-lived Shuffle Along.) Accolades are deserved.
Director Phyllida Lloyd transitions from shows-within-the-show to exposition with relative ease and deftly handles emotional scenes. Bringing back Anna Mae’s town repeatedly (to witness?) does not, in my opinion contribute. Nor do all those umbrellas.
Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is tight and period perfect. Elements referring back to their originator are only missing the signature down-on-her-haunches move.
Sound design (Nevin Steinberg) is woefully inadequate. That the otherwise wonderful Warren occasionally lowers her voice and pitch in an attempt to imitate Turner doesn’t help, but to hear rousing numbers whose powerful lyrics are intermittently muffled is inexcusable.
Projections (Jeff Sugg) that stand-in for scenery (Mark Thompson) are dreadful. Though we open with an impressionistic landscape, most of the others are ugly disco/psychedelic shape and color morphs that detract. Every penny seems to have been sunk into the last, flashy usage of steel and light. Not worth it.
Costumes (Mark Thompson) are fine, though it’s difficult to tell if what’s ugly is an intentional bow to the worst of the era.
Wigs hair and make-up design by Campbell Young Associates is first rate. Oh the wigs!
Photos by Manuel Harlan
Opening: Adrienne Warren and The Company
Tina- The Tina Turner Musical
Book by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
Musical Supervision/Arrangements/Additional Music/Conductor- Nicholas Skilbeck
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