An Electrifying “TINA – The Tina Turner Musical” at Hollywood Pantages

theatre review

PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Naomi Rodgers performing "Proud Mary" as ‘Tina Turner’ and the cast of the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Naomi Rodgers performing "Proud Mary" as ‘Tina Turner’ and the cast of the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.

The mood inside the Pantages on opening night of “Tina” was electric. With audience members dressed to the nines, many in various “Tina” outfits, it felt more like an actual Tina Turner concert than a musical theatre show. Truth be told, it felt like both. We get an in-depth look at Turner’s extraordinary life as well as rock and roll concert numbers that gave us a sense of what it was like to be in an arena with the Queen of Rock and Roll herself.

PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Ayvah Johnson as 'Young Anna-Mae' and the cast of the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Ayvah Johnson as ‘Young Anna-Mae’ and the cast of the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.

The main reason for this is the extraordinary performance of Naomi Rodgers as Tina. She commands the stage like a rock and roll star and is equally devastating as an actress going from a 16 year old Turner, unaware of her rare talent, to the global superstar we all came to know and love. Rodgers doesn’t impersonate Turner, she embodies her and takes us on a journey of a woman finding her inner strength and voice through incredible abuse and hardships. (Rodgers shares the role with Zurin Villanueva)

Written by Katori Hall, the Pulitzer prize winning writer who also wrote “The Mountaintop” currently playing at Geffen Playhouse, the show covers Turner’s entire life, beginning as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. In fact, Turner was called Anna Mae by her family and close friends for most of her life. Tina was always a stage name, one that Ike Turner gave her and was the one thing she retained after their divorce. Turner has said that her second marriage to the love of her life, Erwin Bach, was her only marriage and this show tells that story – how Ike renamed her and basically coerced her into marrying him even though she loved a musician in the band and in fact was pregnant with his child.

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We see how Turner becomes completely controlled by Ike, even as she becomes more and more confident in her performance. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue rises to fame as their personal life becomes more and more abusive and toxic. The show does something different than most “jukebox musicals” in that the songs are not used in chronological order but rather used to illucidate a moment. For example when Ike convinces her to marry him, she launches into one of Turner’s 80’s hits, “You Better Be Good To Me” in one of my favorite moments in the show. “Private Dancer” and “I Can’t Stand The Rain” are used in similar fashion. It’s a clever and effective way tell the story, with an incredible “I Don’t Want To Fight No More” bringing the first act to a dramatic close with a bloodied and bruised Turner literally running across a freeway to freedom.

PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Zurin Villanueva as ‘Tina Turner’ and The TINA Band in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.
PHOTO: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade | The South Pasadenan | Zurin Villanueva as ‘Tina Turner’ and The TINA Band in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL.

The cast is extraordinary, top to bottom, from an imposing Roderick Lawrence as Ike, a take no prisoners Roz White as Tina’s mother, Zelma, to a smooth as silk vocals of Gerard M. Williams as Raymond. Ayvah Johnson is a little powerhouse as young Tina while Max Falls is charming as Turner’s new love, Erwin. I love that we get to see them meet and fall in love and can glimpse the wonderful second chapter Turner had. She often said that she had a wonderful life and that there was so much more to her than the abusive years she spent with Ike. It frustrated her that people focused so much on that part of her life when what was important for her is that she left all that pain behind to live out her wildest dreams. She said this show was her goodbye to her fans and indeed coming to New York to see opening night on Broadway was one of her final public appearances. The show itself also is a love letter to Erwin, finally allowing the world to see what he gave her.

Special mention must be made of Music Director Anne Shuttlesworth and the absolutely smokin’ on stage band! They are a big reason for the authentic rock concert vibe.

Given Ms. Turner’s recent passing, the mood at the Pantages was bittersweet and celebratory. People had come to pay homage to this strong, beautiful icon and the final 20 minutes of the show is Tina Turner at the height of her stardom, walking up the illuminated stairs to greet 180,000 screaming fans in Brazil – she’s “Simply The Best”. Rodgers impossibly kicks it up to an even higher gear as she and the cast deliver a real concert version of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary”, electrifying the audience, on their feet in celebration of the one and only Tina Turner.

TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL plays Hollywood Pantages Theatre through July 9, 2023. Tickets available at www.BroadwayInHollywood.com and www.Ticketmaster.com, or by phone at (800) 982-2787.

The show will then play two weeks in Costa Mesa at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from July 11-23, 2023, with tickets available at www.scfta.org and by phone at 1-714-556-2787.