Review: TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Pulsates at Segerstrom Center

The West End/Broadway jukebox musical dramatizing the life of the music legend stops by Costa Mesa armed with a very satisfying finalé

By: Jul. 19, 2023
Review: TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Pulsates at Segerstrom Center

It's a rather huge understatement to say that the recent passing of legendary music icon and the "Queen of Rock 'n' Roll" Tina Turner just this past May was a significant loss to the world of entertainment, even though it has been quite some time since she's actually performed on a concert stage (she passed away at age 83). 

But, luckily, her musically rich, multi-genre-spanning discography will, of course, continue to be celebrated for generations to come. At the present moment, much of that hits-filled catalog is featured as narrative devices as well as live concert recreations in the stage musical version of her life story, TINA - THE Tina Turner MUSICAL. The West End/Broadway musical's first national tour can currently be experienced live in a limited engagement at OC's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through July 23, 2023.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd and featuring a book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, the biographical musical attempts to compress Ms. Turner's life within the span of a two-and-a-half-hour-plus show, with surprisingly mixed results. 

For the most part, the musical is genuinely rapturous and entertaining, primarily because of its spectacularly-staged musical performances delivered with high-energy gusto from its stellar, awe-inspiring talented cast of triple-threat stars. But, story-wise, the musical feels pieced together, merely scratching the surface of Ms. Turner's early years, as it zips and zags through just brief snippets of a life that's best described as challenging, heartbreaking, harsh, and, ultimately, triumphant (for a much deeper dive into Turner's life, particularly while married to her abusive husband, I suggest checking out the superb 1993 semi-autobiographical film What's Love Got To Do With It starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne). 

Here, seemingly significant, life-altering moments whisk by like memory fragments begging for details.

Review: TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Pulsates at Segerstrom Center
Zurin Villanueva. Photo by MurphyMade.

However, the show's true saving grace is, without a doubt, its star. Playing the demanding title role during the Opening Night performance in the OC, Zurin Villanueva is, simply, a phenomenal powerhouse, blessed with singing and dancing abilities that prove why she got the demanding role in the first place (it's such a demanding part that Villanueva alternates the role with Naomi Rodgers). 

Although she pointedly channels a lot of Ms. Turner's musical tics and vocal cadence, Villanueva eventually makes it her own, proving that true talent---even while "impersonating" a legend---shines through without pretense. By the time the show reaches its boffo conclusion (the finalé and encore alone make going to the show worth it), Villanueva explodes with unbound ferocity and effortlessly brings down the house with every belted noted and shimmy. 

But the show, like Ms. Turner's tumultuous life, isn't picture perfect.

The somewhat chaotic first act haphazardly crams together a mountain-high chunk of Turner's early years---from her start in Nutbush, Tennessee as a young church choir member named Anna Mae Bullock (played by the terrific young phenom Ayvah Johnson on opening night) to her eventual separation from her abusive husband and musical svengali Ike Turner (the convincingly menacing Roderick Lawrence). There's a palpable, anxiety-inducing urgency to these scenes, as if the show just wants us to speed through all this heartache (and, uh, yeah, still-shocking violence) so that we can witness her winning "comeback" in Act 2. 

That's nice, but I wanted to see/learn more about her fractured relationships with her seemingly uncaring mother Zelma (Roz White) who abruptly leaves young Anna Mae with her domineering father, and her estranged sister Alline (Parris Lewis), with whom she later reunites. I did, though, appreciated seeing Ms. Turner's rapport with her grandmother (Carla R. Stewart), the one relative who truly raised her, and encouraged her, and loved her.

Along the way, we meet other periphery characters: Tina's would-be paramour, Raymond (Gerard M. Williams), the handsome saxophone player in Ike's band, who subsequently quits after Tina and Ike's engagement (while she's pregnant with his child!); and, later, Rhonda (Lael Van Keuren) a surprisingly caring band manager-turned-close-confidante who looks out for Tina and Tina's children and Tina's welfare, despite the appearance that she and Ike were, most likely, initially having an affair.

Review: TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Pulsates at Segerstrom Center
Zurin Villanueva (center). Photo by MurphyMade.

The first act culminates with Ike and Tina agreeing to work with ick music producer Phil Spector (Geoffrey Kidwell), who angers Ike by wanting to only work directly with Tina and using his infamous "wall of sound" rather than Ike. 

But after yet another incident of graphic, drug-induced violence that leaves her badly bruised, Tina finally finds the courage to run away and leave her abusive husband for good.

The Second Act (the better and more focused of the two acts) centers on the now divorced Ms. Turner's big "comeback" from near-obscurity, helped along by a young, very eager new producer named Roger Davies (Zachary Freier-Harrison) who is a fan of Tina's and wants to revive her career at Capitol Records. Meanwhile, Tina also has a meet-cute with a Capitol Records exec, Erwin Bach (Max Falls), a German transplant. Is she finally poised for solo success and true love?

Mostly engaging and indeed passionately performed, TINA - THE Tina Turner MUSICAL is one of the better jukebox musicals to come out of Broadway in recent years, even though much of the book scenes feel too rushed and choppy to make much impact. 

Part of that swiftness is reiterated by the show's scenic design which relies heavily on its giant LED backdrop that features fast-paced projections designed by Jeff Sugg that transports the audience to various locales instantaneously. While certainly a marvel of theatrical technology, this digitally-induced detachment makes the show feel like it's fast-forwarding through the story at all times, barely stopping to give the characters time to breathe (I do like how the projections showed the Capitol Records studio interiors, though, aided by Bruno Poet's lighting).

But, as many in attendance of opening night will agree, the show really comes alive during the show's spectacular ending (and extended encore), when Tina finally finds her confident footing, deservedly atop the highest spot on the stage belting out her big comeback hit in a spiky blonde ‘do. The grand finalé converts Segerstrom stage into a rock concert stadium arena, with Villanueva holding court as the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, doing a pair of songs Ike previously prevented her from performing. The audience, as expected, goes nuts. 

Review: TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Pulsates at Segerstrom Center
Max Falls, Zurin Villanueva. Photo by MurphyMade.

And when all is seen and done, one thing audience members will surely take away from the show is that Ms. Turner earned her status as a music legend with literal blood, sweat, and lots of tears. 

* Follow this reviewer on Twitter / Instagram / Threads: @cre8iveMLQ *


Photos by MurphyMade courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Performances of TINA - THE Tina Turner MUSICAL continue at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through July 23, 2023. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit 

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy



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