Theatre Review: Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is a moving homage to the life that Tina Turner lived – it celebrates her life beautifully

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical is a moving homage to the life that Tina Turner lived – it celebrates her life beautifully

Presented by: TEG Dainty, Stage Entertainment and Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed: 30 April, 2024

There will only ever be one Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll – Tina Turner. She was simply the best. Her never-ending string of hits shaped and reshaped the music industry as we know it. Her passing in May 2023, at age 83, hit the music industry hard. Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is a powerful biographical musical that delivers a huge rollercoaster of emotions. From the highs to the lowest of lows, this production packs a punch. Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is a moving homage to the life that Tina Turner lived – it celebrates her life beautifully.

The show opens with Tina backstage at her 1988 concert in Brazil, before transporting the audience back to her childhood and her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee. What follows is an in-depth look at the key moments of Tina’s life.

It is worth noting that this production does not shy away from the abuse that Tina faced in her life – both physical and racial. Whilst it is confronting to watch, especially the abuse Tina and her children received from Ike Turner, it is a topic that should not be hidden away. It shows the true strength Tina had to stand up to Ike, confront him and then leave – this moment in the show was met with applause.

The show is packed with hits, as you might imagine. However, unlike some jukebox musicals, the numbers don’t feel like they have been wedged in, but rather they have been carefully selected and arranged to complement the storytelling. The show ends with Tina performing at her 1988 concert in Brazil and the energy during the final number, Simply The Best, and the two curtain call numbers, Nutbush City Limits and Proud Mary, almost raises the roof of the Festival Centre. The show is expertly supported by an incredible live band that features several local Adelaide musicians who are featured during the final few numbers. Musical Director Christina Polimos has worked hard with the cast and band to capture the Tina Turner sound.

As Tina Turner, Ruva Ngwenya is the complete package. She captures the mannerisms of Tina Turner perfectly and her effervescent personality oozes off the stage and fills the Festival Theatre. Vocally, Ngwenya is in a league of her own. She has a wonderfully rich tone and an impressive range that handles the score with ease. Ngwenya is a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with. Her voice soars like Tina Turner’s and also demands your attention. Her acting is equally as impressive. You feel every blow during scenes with Ike.

Making his debut with the cast of Tina, Giovanni Adams takes on the role of Ike Turner. It would be no easy feat for anyone to have to portray someone with Ike’s history, but Adams has also captured the mannerisms and nuances of Ike Turner brilliantly. We see the showman side of Ike’s personality when performing at clubs and then a shift to a much darker persona when off stage. Vocally, Adams is also excellent.

For the opening night performance, young Anna-Mae Bullock (young Tina) was played by incredibly sensational Lucy Bowyer. At just eleven years old, Bowyer has stage presence and vocal abilities well beyond her years. Her vocal tone and control, especially on riffs, was impressive. 

The casting of the supporting roles is equally impressive. Deni Gordon’s portrayal of Gran Georgeanna (GG) is tender and warm and Ibinabo Jack finds the right balance between tough and caring as Zelma Bullock. John O’Hara comes close to stealing the show with his portrayal of the legendary Phil Spector. It is also wonderful to see Adelaidians Matthew Prime as Erwin Bach and Nadia Komazec as Tina’s longtime manager, Rhonda Graam.

The ensemble and their energy are the fuel that gives Tina – The Tina Turner Musical the magical spark. Their choreography is tight and their vocal work is impressive. In particular, the opening sequence and gospel rendition of Nutbush City Limits has stuck in my head. Their sound is captivating. 

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is a visual treat. Simple sliding set pieces highlight where the scene is set and a giant digital screen across the entire back of the stage is well used. Personally, I don’t usually like the use of screens or projection in productions, but this was creatively used and did not detract from the cast. Brunno Poet’s lighting design was well thought through. It was unobtrusive when needed to be, but then during bigger numbers and the ‘live concert’ components of the show, Poet’s lighting design pulls out all the stops. Phyllida Lloyd’s direction and Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is simply the best. A particularly powerful moment was where the cast who play Tina’s family were used as shields to protect her or to offer support in times of need. There were many such subtle but incredibly moving moments in this unforgettable production.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is only playing in Adelaide until the end of May, so do what you can to get rollin’ down the river (Torrens) to see it. It is a wonderful celebration of one of the most iconic voices of the music industry and you can’t help but get up and dance.

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Until May 31, 2024
Duration: 2 hours and 45 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission)
Tickets: From $55.00

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