Review: Tina - The Tina Turner Musical by touring company
by Brian Paul Scipione

In 1967 Tina Turner was both the first African American and the first woman to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Her story is well known to many. Born Anna Mae Bullock, she rose to stardom early in her career after joining Ike Turner’s band the Kings of Rhythm in 1956 at the age of seventeen. Her marriage to Ike Turner was marked by sixteen years of physical and emotional abuse, from which she escaped in 1976.


She went on to have an incredibly successful solo career with many rewards and accolades including a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2018 and solo induction into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2021. She has won twelve Grammy Awards, is the only female musician to have won Grammys in the pop, rock, and rhythm & blues categories, and was the first artist to have a top-40 hit in each of seven consecutive decades. Turner passed away just last year at the age of 83. She was a true tour de force, yet most of the stories about her, the present Broadway musical included, focus on her marriage to Ike Turner, who died in 2007 of a cocaine overdose.



Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opened t the Aldwych Theatre in London's West End in April 2018. It didn’t debut on Broadway until October 2019. The North American tour began in Providence, Rhode Island in September 2022. This jukebox musical features a book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins. Hall, the award-winning stage and television writer, is known for The Hot Wing King, P-Valley, and The Mountaintop.


Tina has an opening that's a bit jaring. It depicts Tina Turner suddenly stopping backstage to recite a Buddhist chant when she's clearly expected onstage by a screaming throng of adoring fans. I had no idea that she was a Buddhist and wondered if we would learn more about that—but alas! The story  jumps back into her childhood, and we witness the parental neglect and the learned patterns of abuse that originated with Tina’s father’s physical abuse of her mother. There's a lot of stage violence during the first act, but the effect is less harrowing than it mighe, given the poor fight choreography and simple, almost dull, light design. The lighting desigr relies heavily on a moving spotlight throughout the play. That makes plenty of sense during concert scenes but not so much at other times.



The story advances with exuberant singing and excellent song choices including “Nutbush City Limits," "Don't Turn Around," and the perennial crowd pleaser "Shake a Tail Feather.” Anna Mae’s early life is one of repeated rejection, first by her mother Zelma who walks out taking only her eldest daughter Alline with her, then when Tina's father dumps her on Grandma Georgeanna, and again when her grandma unceremoniously sends her back to her mother.


Brianna Cameron as young Anna Mae (photo by Matthew Murphy)


The play shows Ike Turner discovering Anna Mae as a reluctant ingenue in Anna Mae but in her own biography I, Tina she tells hw sheworked hard to get his attention. At one point she ended up grabbing the microphone during the band’s intermission and singing BB King’s "You Know I Love You."  


The story speeds onward wasting no time at all and it quickly becomes clear that Ike is controlling and abusive. He gives her no say in choosing her new name or in how (or if) she gets paid for her work. This section of the play cmes across very much like a movie montage.


Ari Groover (photo by Matthew Murphy)Tina’s situation has become so dire that the notorious record producer and accused murderer Phil Spector appears as an ally. Spector is played with insidious relish by Eric Siegle, who makes the most of the opportunity to make the skin crawl of those in the audience who know. He defies Ike by insisting on recording Tina as a solo act and it's from this pint that  Ari Groover (alternating with Parris Lewis in the title role) takes the spotlight for most of the remainder of the show.


Groover displays all the energy and exuberance that the role demands and does an amazing job with the scant material she has to work with. She truly makes a meal out of the short scene at the end of act one when she finally decides to leave Ike for good. Groover's singing is as powerful as her acting, but she doesn't come close to embodying Tina Turner’s distinct mannerisms. She occasionally throws in Tina’s famous trembling delivery but not consistently enough to make the audience feel they're watching anything other than an impression.


The second act is much shorter and dutifully runs though all of Tina Turner’s solo hits (it's a jukebox musical, after all).  And what incredible hits they are: "Private Dancer," "I Can't Stand the Rain," "What's Love Got to Do with It?" "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)," and "The Best."


Ari Groover (photo by Matt Murrphy)


The beginning of act two provided some much-needed comic relief via the characters f star-struck recording studio employees who helped her achieve what many describe as the greatest comeback in the history of music. The background video screen  used to project psychedelic images during certain segments of the show addedinteresting elements: a sense of period accuracy and the suggestion that parts of the story were taking place in Tina’s mind. This provided bold and meaningful interpretation of many of the song’s lyrics. For example, the words we don’t need another hero  become less of a statement and more of the star's reaction when being courted by several potential lovers.


Tina Turner famously had many objections to the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It? She said the script and finished product framed her as a victim and had many inaccuracies. As a result she was invited to be involved with the production team of Tina the musical. That having been said, this musical still represents a missed opportunity to tell her story in a more balanced, less exploitive manner. In this version her victories are without exception either Pyrrhic or monetary.


The cast does a wonderful job. Having the orchestra join them onstage in a mini-concert for an encore is a toe-tapping delight and ensures the crowd goes home happy. They leave with many a catchy melody caught in their heads, but they're still likely to be unsure what love had to do with it.




Tina - The Tina Turner Musical
by Katori Hall
touring company

January 09 - January 14, 2024
Bass Concert Hall
2350 Robert Dedman Drive
Austin, TX, 78712

January 9 - 14, 2024

Bass Concert Hall

Tickets via Texas Performing Arts