Review of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at the Fox Theatre

    Tina: The Tina Turner Musical starts out with two great assets: the title character’s irresistible music and inspiring life story. Other jukebox musicals have failed despite having similar advantages. Tina is a tremendous success because of the wonderful storytelling.

    The show’s North American tour just began a two-week run at the Fox Theatre.

    In the book by Katori Hall (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), young Anna Mae Bullock shows the first signs of her talent at her church in Nutbush, Tennessee. Her singing is so exuberant that she embarrasses her mother, Zelma. She and Anna Mae’s father have a stormy relationship. In the wake of marital violence, Zelma leaves the household and takes her eldest daughter, Alline, to St. Louis. Anna remains behind and is raised by her grandmother, Gran Georgeanna.

    When Anna Mae is a teenager, Gran Georgeanna encourages her to join her mother and sister in St. Louis. There, Anna Mae is introduced to Ike Turner, who convinces Zelma to let Anna Mae become a part of his act.

    Ike gives new names to both Anna Mae and the act. She rises to stardom as Tina Turner, half of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Her success comes at a cost. The manipulative Ike subjects her to emotional and physical abuse that eventually forces her to flee.

    Rebuilding her career after leaving Ike is an arduous process for Tina, but she finds empowerment along the way. She refuses to be anyone’s puppet again. When Tina finally returns to the top, it on her own terms.

    The show hurtles forward in director Phyllida Lloyd’s brilliant staging. Even when years pass between episodes, there are no breaks in the action. Most of the resetting takes place in Jeff Sugg’s marvelous projections, whose styles range from realistic to impressionistic. The few set pieces in Mark Thompson’s scenic design are moved unobtrusively while the action proceeds.

    The production values are outstanding in Thompson’s costumes, Bruno Poet’s lighting, Nevin Steinberg’s sound, and Campbell Young Associates’ hair, wigs, and makeup. The musical numbers are dazzling thanks to Anthony Van Laast’s choreography, a splendid band, and an excellent cast.

    The role of Tina is equally shared on the tour by Ari Groover and Parris Lewis. On opening night, Lewis exhibited tireless star power while embodying the full range of Tina’s emotions. Deon Releford-Lee captured Ike Turner’s veneer of slickness as well as the meanness and resentment below the surface. The major woman in Tina’s life were portrayed with admirable depth by Roz White as Zelma, Wydetta Carter as Gran Georgeanna, and Sarah Bockel as Rhonda Graam, who was Tina’s manager after she left Ike.

    Opening night concluded with the reading of Mayor Tishaura Jones’s proclamation that November is Tina Turner month in the city of St. Louis.

    Tina: The Tina Turner Musical continues through Sunday, November 26, at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.
    Parris Lewis as Tina Turner performing “The Best” in the North American touring production of
    Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.