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Tina The Tina Turner Musical

Tina The Tina Turner Musical

Starring Ruva Ngwenya

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Musical Supervisor Nicholas Skilbeck

Choreographer Anthony Van Laast

Book by Katori Hall

Photo Credit Daniel Boud

Theatre Royal until October 8

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP

Tina Turner the Musical

There has been a massive amount of hype preceding the opening of Tina The Tina Turner Musical which has finally opened at the Theatre Royal. So does it live up to expectations?

The story starts with the birth of Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 and her difficult relationship with her mother, Zelma (Ibinabo Jack). She joined Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm when she was 17 and her tumultuous relationship with him involved physical, mental, economic and emotional violence which was exacerbated when a producer wanted Tina without Ike.

Ike had a hand in creating Rocket “88” which was arguably the first rock ’n’ roll record.

Tina Turner the Musical

For me, a highlight was her 1966 collaboration with Phil Spector (John O’Hara) who produced the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich classic, River Deep - Mountain High. The scene is in Spector’s Gold Star recording studios and starts with Tina singing the song. When Spector’s famous Wall of Sound that involved 21 session musicians kicks in, the sheer power of the recording blows the roof off.

Other Act I songs include Nutbush City Limits, A Fool In Love, Better Be Good To Me, Let’s Stay Together, Be Tender With Me Baby and Proud Mary.

If River Deep - Mountain High and Proud Mary are both in the first act, how can Act II possibly build? Well, there’s a reference to Tina’s brief disco period, then I Can’t Stand The Rain, Private Dancer, What’s Love Got to Do With It? and We Don’t Need Another Hero.

Tina Turner the musical

The sets are quite simple; they’re moved on and off by the performers with the help of the revolve. Some sets are flown in and out. For Tina’s early life in Brownsville, Tennessee, projections on the cyclorama depict her impoverished environment and we see the wooded landscape that definitely includes tree trunks.

Ruva Ngwenya has been cast in the plum lead role. It must be a challenging task for her to play such a revered performer, especially considering that she doesn’t really look like Tina. Still, Ngwenya does act like the music icon. In one song she sounds like Marcia Hines, and her clear voice misses the growl that characterises Tina’s vocals. Ngwenya is an excellent actor and singer who is performing Tina Turner songs. So key is the role that there is an alternate plus two understudies. It would be interesting to also see each of those three in performance. In a 1981 production of Evita, Jennifer Murphy had two understudies, Mariette Rups and Camille Gardner, and I thought that Rups was the best Evita.

Sydney Theatre reviews

As Ike Turner, Tim Omaji is a powerful foil to Ngwenya’s Tina. He transitions Ike from the young, hungry and ambitious band leader to the wife-basher, to a frailer older man. Omaji has a strong presence. You don’t miss him when he’s on stage.

Spoiler alert. Tina does find happiness with Erwin Bach (Matthew Prime), whom she married ten years ago.

It’s a delight that, as Gran Georgeanna, Deni Gordon is still treading the boards. I first saw her in 1969 in the first Australian production of Hair at the Metro, Kings Cross, along with Marcia Hines.

Nadia Komazec is in another key role of Rhonda Graam. Komazec well plays Tina’s solid, reliable and devoted friend and personal assistant, and the blonde character is in contrast to the mainly black cast.

A climax is reached with the final song, Simply The Best, when they pull out all stops. It’s big lighting and action, with the entire ten-piece band on stage, and it sounds much bigger. Then it explodes with the Proud Mary encore that has the audience dancing, clapping and cheering. The final fifteen minutes alone is worth the price of admission, and I’d like to see an entire performance in the style of the last part.

Tina The Tina Turner Musical takes you through the highs and lows of Tina’s life and career, all of which contributed to her status as an icon and international treasure. You will leave the theatre humming or singing, and feeling good about the world.

Tina Turner Musical Sydney


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