TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Dazzles Nashville Audiences With Tribute to 'The Queen of Rock and Roll'

Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Katori Hall Provides the Book That Places This Jukebox Musical In a Class of its Own

By: Feb. 16, 2024
TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Dazzles Nashville Audiences With Tribute to 'The Queen of Rock and Roll'
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Without a doubt, one’s most enduring memory of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical – after experiencing it for the first, tenth or even 25th time – will be of the very special post-curtain call mini-concert that involves the entire company in energetic, frenetic and oh-so-joyful performances of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary.” No matter what you have witnessed onstage during the three hours of the musical homage to “The Queen of Rock and Roll” – and, trust me, there’s a lot of trauma to unpack from Turner’s life story – you’re sure to leave the theater in a much better mood than when you fought traffic and vied for a parking space in order to catch the phenomenal show.

Now onstage at Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Theatre, through Sunday, February 18, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical gives the full biographical jukebox musical treatment to one of Tennessee’s most talented exports and favorite daughters, with a collection of her greatest musical hits and an incisive book by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall (also one of the Volunteer State’s favorite daughters; she’s from Memphis!) that clearly elevates the material and distinguishes Tina from all the other recent musicals of its ilk.

TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Dazzles Nashville Audiences With Tribute to 'The Queen of Rock and Roll' Directed by the acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd, with showstopping choreography by Anthony Van Laast and eye-popping set and costume design by Mark Thompson, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is in a class by itself and seems almost certain to appeal to all manner of audiences, whether they are longtime followers of the former Anna Mae Bullock’s storied career, or if they have only recently been introduced to her amazing body of work and her tremendously engaging backstory that lends even more gravitas to her startling list of accomplishments.

The resounding curtain call and its accompanying – and sustained – standing ovation that preces the mini-concert is in response to the overall stellar performances among Lloyd’s talent cast. Zurin Villaneuva, taking on the title role for opening night in Nashville, delivers a powerhouse of a performance; in fact, she may have actually been channeling Tina Turner herself, so breathtaking and awe-inspiring is her performance, and we think that Tina may indeed have been right there with her onstage. And Brianna Cameron, who plays young Anna Mae, is equally as noteworthy, with a clarion voice and onstage presence that is as exciting as any you may have seen in musical theater. Ever.

The audience needs the release of that curtain call and the unmitigated joy of the performance of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary” after witnessing the difficulties portrayed from their heroine’s life: her mama, who abandoned her when was just a child, and the horrific Ike Turner who introduced her to stardom and then beat her, down into submission, are both as villainous as any fictional characters can be written, but the knowledge they really existed make them even more despicable. Kudos to Deon Releford-Lee for his no-holds-barred performance as Ike Turner – he doesn’t hold back, yet somehow manages to create a portrayal that audiences respect and admire. Likewise, Roz White delivers a searing performance as Tina’s mother Zelma, walking the same fine line that is well-respected by people out in the dark.

TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Dazzles Nashville Audiences With Tribute to 'The Queen of Rock and Roll' Despite the many hardships she was forced to endure in life, there was nothing – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – that could stifle Tina Turner’s talent, her drive to succeed or her determination to achieve her goals and that which, by divine right, was hers all along. Tina Turner’s awesome talents sealed her destiny to become the major, record-shattering star who can still dazzle us and entertain us, thanks to the women who play her onstage every night.

For me, the highlight of the entire production was Villaneuva’s startling rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High” (I happily confess it’s my favorite Tina Tuner song) that proves to be a showstopping tribute to the Queen. I cannot help but think that there’s something particularly special about the state of Tennessee to have gifted the world both Dolly Parton and the undisputed “Queen of Rock and Roll,” the legendary Tina Turner.

In addition to aforementioned supporting performers, Gigi Lewis is all sisterly sass and warm acceptance as Tina’s sister Alline, and Sarah Bockel manages to create a welcome, sympathetic role as Rhonda Graham. Dylan S. Wallach is delightful as Australian-born producer Roger Davies; John Battagliese provides a loving respite for Tina as Erwin Bach; and Gerard M. Williams delivers a strong performance as Raymond.

The musical moves at a terrific pace that keeps audience members engaged and which helps to downplay the darker moments in Turner’s story. There’s never a dull moment, for sure, but the pace refrains from beating audiences over the head with a series of events and musical numbers. Instead, its flow seems rather cinematic. Van Laast’s choreography is inventive and imaginative, showcasing his cast’s remarkable talents and keeping the energy at a steady clip to ensure audience response. Meanwhile, transitions from one scene to another are barely noticeable, as one moment dovetails into the next to create a seamless, yet completely stunning visual aesthetic, thanks to Thompson’s elegant design and the extraordinary lighting design by Bruno Poet that easily transports audiences from one locale to the next. Nevin Steinberg’s sound design is equally noteworthy, ensuring that every note sung, every line spoken is heard with unfettered ease.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. Original Musical Supervision, Arrangements and Addition Music by Nicholas Skilbeck. Presented by Broadway at TPAC. At Andrew Jackson Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through February 18. Running time: 3 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).