Simply the Best! Better Than All the Rest!
JULY 13, 2023 — COSTA MESA
It's got the anthems, it's got the moves, it's got the hair. And, on a deep-dive into the life of one of the world's best-selling recording artists, it’s also got moments of genuine turmoil.
Yet, for all its terrible pain it brings to the stage, both laudibly and unflinchingly, I’ve rarely heard an audience greet one with the mighty roar it did, when “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” opened this past Tuesday night at the Segerstrom in Costa Mesa. The show is set to run through July 23rd in Segerstrom Hall.
Putting Academy & Tony Award winning director Phyllida Lloyd in charge of turning Tina’s life story into a theatrical event was a smart move. Not only is she a highly regarded director of theater and opera classics (“Mary Stuart;” “The Iron Lady;” “Six Degrees of Separation”), she and her costume and set designer Mark Thompson created the modern-era trend for the most famous jukebox musical of all, “Mamma Mia!”
Director Lloyd and her creative team have folded Ms. Turner’s formidable songbook into a briskly efficient, formulaic survey of her life — or, at least, a sizable chunk of it. The rock icon who has up to now, always seemed ageless, passed away only a few months ago at the age of 83. The story on stage contains few surprises we didn’t already know, but the songs possess a seismic power that can turn a diverse public into a clamoring, ovation-ready mass. And this week, it did just that.
Born Anna Mae Bullock, the young Turner grew up in the small Tennessee town of Nutbush, whose Black residents were expected to stick to picking cotton and keeping to themselves. Her first experience of violence is over the kitchen table as her father beats Zelma, her mother (Roz White; Nat’l Tour: “Dreamgirls”), who both later abandons young Tina to be raised by her Gran Georgeanna, who urges her to go to Memphis, use her voice and teach those “white boys” a lesson. Unfortunately, that will be the last time Anna Mae sees her grandmother alive. Carla R. Stewart (“The Color Purple” revival), affectionately labeled in the media, “not a grannie to mess with!” reprises her role from the original Broadway production.
Later as a teenager, when she comes back to live at her mother’s house, Tina manages to impress songwriter/record producer Ike Turner while out on the town with her sister Alline (Parris Lewis), and he invites her to sing with his band. From 1960 to 1976, they perform live as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Soon they are regarded as one of the most potent live acts on the circuit with a string of R&B hits and a UK tour with The Rolling Stones. In spite of their success, they have a tumultuous marriage with continuous physical altercations and abuse. The show draws gasps from some audience members who came, solely expecting a jaunty musical, but instead provided a harrowing insight into the daunting life of the rock legend.
Infinitely elastic in its casting, this ultraslick production features a double-cast Tina Turner — Naomi Rodgers (Nat’l Tour: “Frozen”) and Zurin Villaneuva (Brdwy: “The Lion King”). Tuesday night’s opener featured the latter, with Ms. Villaneuva unleashing something volcanic from within herself while channeling the Queen of Rock & Roll. The performer is rarely offstage and sings with a feral, uncaged yearning that does the show’s namesake proud. Smaller and slighter than the famously leggy Ms. Turner, Zurin Villaneuva seems to grow in size and stature as she moves toward a fireworks-laden final concert in Brazil that has the feeling of a victory parade.
From the second she takes over from remarkable scene-stealing child actor Ayvah Johnson (who played the same part on Broadway), Ms. Villanueva ignites the theater. Vocally, she has everything from Turner’s low, cat-like purr, best heard in the lamenting verse of “Private Dancer” (one of the show’s strongest sequences), up through the blowtorch power of the rock-steady middle register to the flame-thrower rasp and roar of the head voice, all coupled with a machine-gun vibrato that shakes the walls of the building. And, in case you wondered, her scissoring legs capture Turner’s every fierce and frantic move.
At the end of the first act, a blood-strewn Tina stands at the front of the stage and quietly begs a motel manager to let her stay despite having no money. The atmosphere is tense and charged as you realize her life has been so full of anguish and heartache. It’s a vivid, intense moment as she sings directly to the audience, “I Don’t Wanna Fight No More.”
Act II moves fast, picking up with single mom Tina raising her two adolescent sons and performing in Las Vegas, struggling to make ends meet. Her manager Rhonda (Lael Van Keuren; Brdwy: “Paradise Square”), who had also worked with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, is helping revitalize Tina’s career and ends up bringing her to Capitol Records. Instead of a deal, Tina finds a new manager in young Australian upstart Roger Davies (Zachary Freier-Harrison; “Mamma Mia!”)). He encourages her to hire him and temporarily relocate to London to record new music for a few weeks (“Open Arms”).
In London, Tina meets German marketing executive Erwin Bach, who is played with tenderness by Max Falls; “Fancy: Country Jukebox Musical.” Their spark is immediate, but in the studio, Tina has trouble understanding the computerized music she is being pushed to create a hit with. Frustrated, she sings her enticing cover of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” with Roderick Lawrence (Nat’l Tour: “The Lion King”), a versatile actor who gives his all as vicious, self-centered Ike, hovering like a specter behind her.
Other notables in the show include Geoffrey Kidwell as a believable Phil Spector, Gerard M. Williams as Raymond, her first crush, Andre Hinds as Craig, Parris Lewis as Alline and Lillian Charles as Young Alline and Young Craig.
After beginning her transformation into lthe eather-clad, blonde-haired Eighties diva, Capitol ends her contract for being too old and black for the label. Undeterred, she decides to perform shows at the New York City rock club, The Ritz. Finding her power back with the familiar concert setting, Ms. Villaneuva’s Tina shines in “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” a stunningly powerful, extraordinarily controlled performance that is way beyond mere perfect impersonation.
Eyes flashing in hope or burning with determination, the stage is aflame with both her energy and the spirit she’s channeling. And she has complete command of her character’s pain and passion and, best of all, the stillness when needed. So much so, that by the end of the act, as she faces 180,000 people in Brazil and Bruno Poet’s lighting lets rip and turns the auditorium into a rock stadium, Zurin Villaneuva has converted the entire audience into cheering fans. You find yourself not just won over into utterly believing she is Tina Turner, but sharing in her absolute joy in performing.
SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS, PRESENTS, THE BROADWAY TOUR OF, TINA, THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL; Book by KATORI HALL, With FRANK KETALAAR and KEES PRINS; Directed by PHYLLIDA LLOYD; Choreographed by ANTHONY VAN LAAST; Conducted & Musically Directed by ANNE SHUTTLESWORTH; Original Musical Supervision, Arrangements & Additional Music by NICHOLAS SKILBECK; Set and Costume Design by MARK THOMPSON; Fight Direction by SORDELET INC.; Orchestrations by ETHAN POPP; Lighting Design by BRUNO POET; Sound Design by NEVIN STEINBERG; Projection Design by JEFF SUGG; Wig, Hair & Makeup Design by CAMPBELL YOUNG ASSOCIATES; Production Stage Manager ERIC SPROSTY; Executive Producers TINA TURNER & ERWIN BACH.
STARRING: NAOMI RODGERS; ZURIN VILLANUEVA; RODERICK LAWRENCE; CARLA R. STEWART; ROZ WHITE.
WITH: LAEL VAN KEUREN; DAELYANNA KELLY BENSON; ANTONIO BEVERLY; KAREN BURTHWRIGHT; ALIYAH CALDWELL; BRIANNA CAMERON; LILLIAN CHARLES; MAX FALLS; ZACHERY FREIER-HARRISON; REYNA GUERRA; GORDIA HAYES; ANDRE HINDS; TAKIA HOPSON; AYVAH JOHNSON; GEOFFREY KIDWELL; PARRIS LEWIS; NIA NELSON-WILLIAMS; GRACIE PHILLIPS; NICOLE POWELL; TERANCE REDDICK; SHARI WASHINGTON RHONE; JACOB ROBERTS-MILLER; CHRIS STEVENS; JEFF SULLIVAN; KRISTOPHER STANLEY WARD; GERARD M. WILLIAMS; DEON RELEFORD-LEE.
TINA, THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL runs for select dates and times from July 11 — 23, 2023 in Segerstrom Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2PM & 7:30PM; Sundays at 1PM & 6:30PM. Running time, 2 hours, 40 minutes, one intermission. Accessibility performance on Saturday, July 22nd at 2PM. For more information and full details, please call the box office at (714) 556-2787 or visit https://www.scfta.org/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade