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Review: TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

Review: TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

Great Singing Electrifies the Audience

The beloved diva took to the Shea's Buffalo stage as the Broadway musical TINA: THE Tina Turner MUSICAL opened to wild audience approval last night. The icon of soul and later rock & roll has her life told through another one of those bio-musical retellings, using the Tina Turner catalog of hits as a score.

Add her story to those of Gloria Estefan, Michaal Jackson, Cher and soon to be Neil Diamond being told on the Great White Way. While some of these musicals are more successful than other, telling the personal life of Turner seems theatre worthy. Her life has played out as a bit of a soap opera due to her marriage to the abusive Ike Turner. Tina, whose real name is Anna Mae Bullock, was born to preacher father in Tennessee who beat his wife and sometimes his daughters. Young Anna Mae is abandoned by her mother and older sister to be raised by her grandmother. The abuse she witnessed as a child is mirrored in her tumultuous marriage to Ike. Needless to say, there is a great deal of drama as Tina becomes a star, but abandons her life, husband and fame due to her unthinkable abuse. Her meteoric rise to fame again as a solo artist makes for an exciting second act.

Where the shows shines brightest is in the moments when the characters actually perform, as if in concerts. Otherwise the songs feel shoe-horned in to try and flesh out the story. For the majority of the times, the stage is bare except for a few rolling pieces of furniture. The star of the design lies in the magnificent lighting by Bruno Poet. The projections by Jeff Sugg make up for the lack of scenery, and with Poet's lighting, the stage comes alive with excitement.

The book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins can be clunky at times, as the first act seemed long. Te concept of beginning with a flashback was effective. The star Tina is about to go on stage, but she morphs into her younger self and is surrounded by her childhood church friends. The action proceeds chronologically and by the conclusion we see Turner back at the same spot she started, ready to sing and perform.

We get Turner's hits throughout that include "Better Be Good to Me," "Private Dancer," and "Proud Mary" to name a few.

A universally wonderful cast is performing at their best in this production directed by Phyllida Lloyd. A large ensemble of electric dancers gets to dance choreography by Anthony Van Laast. His dances have all of the signature moves one comes to expect for Ms. Turner and her back up dancers. There is a nice nod to dance styles of the 1950's as the Ike and Tina Revue work their act to become an eventual hit.

On opening night Naomi Rodgers stepped into the pumps of Tina Turner and she did the legend proud! Rodgers gave a nuanced performance that started meek, growing self assured and later downright dominant. Her rise to fame, only to be knocked down after the breakup with Ike was heartbreaking. Rodgers has a knock out set of pipes, able to scale the heights as well as the introspective lows. She has the legs to carry off the iconic Tina Turner look and by the time she puts on the famous spikey hair wig and miniskirt, you fall in love with her like it was 1985 again.

Garrett Turner is Ike, the man you love to hate. Tall and lean, Mr. Turner commands the stage and has an imposingly strong presence that makes all around him fearful. His powerful yet gravely voice had the perfect sound for Ike. As he slips into drugs and sleeping around, he shows what a vile human being he was. The scenes of physical violence were necessary and done very well.

Roz White is simply great as Tina's mother Zelma. She is sassy, opinionated and often cold. It's not hard to believe her personality and un-motherly ways were a product of her abusive marriage. Ann Nesby is the perfect grandmother figure, who just happens to have a powerful voice and a few good moves left in her. Her loving presence helped Tina becomes the strong woman she ended up as.

Taylor Blackman as Raymon was the smooth love interest in Tina's early life. His duet "Let's Stay Together" was tenderly sung and a time when song and lyrics truly fit the plot. As Tina's older sister, Parris Lewis brings a healthy sense of reality to Tina's life . Erwin Bach is Tina's later love in life and eventual husband, played to great effect by Max Falls. Falls displayed a sense of true love and normalcy to Tina's chaotic life.

The offstage band turned in some great playing, and by the musical's end was allowed onstage. The concert type ending included a jubilant full ensemble singing "We Don't Need Another Hero" and "Simply the Best." Rodgers had the audience in the palm of her hand and gave two additional numbers after the curtain call. The whole theatre was on it's feet, clapping and swaying as the electricty of the music bathed the theatre. If you couldn't see an actual Tina Turner concert , you surely felt like you witnessed something almost as magical. This is not high brow theatre, but was an entertaining night of great music.

TINA: THE Tina Turner MUSICAL plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through November 13, 2022. Contact for more information

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From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, A... (read more about this author)

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