A mind-blowing performance leads the way in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. The rest is a little less clear. The Broadway tour performs at The Paramount Theatre through 9/17.
There are two things you need to know about Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
The first is that Ari Groover is phenomenal. I’ll skip any puns on her fitting last name, but Groover made her tour debut at the Seattle stop’s opening night (after understudying the role in the Broadway run), and holy smokes. Clear out my schedule; I could watch Groover perform as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll every night of the week.
(We do not get the luxury of seeing both performers tackle the role in a single night’s show, so I cannot speak to Naomi Rodgers, also in the title role, but others have praised her highly as well. The two will each perform half of Seattle’s eight shows over the tour stop’s six days at The Paramount.)
The second is that the best part of the second act, certainly, and arguably the best part of the show, comes after the curtain call. This is when Groover, or Rodgers, gets to really let loose, with the full cadre of actors and musicians behind her, and do “Proud Mary.” And “Nutbush City Limits,” the Turner-penned driving rock song that barely gets a nod in the body of the show. The booming-voiced, diminutive Young Anna-Mae (Symphony King on opening night, alternating with Brianna Cameron) also gets her biggest notes here, after wowing earlier in the show. It’s a blast of a rock concert you don’t want to miss.
That leaves the rest of the show, and it’s a mixed bag.
The first act treads over mostly familiar territory for anyone who saw the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It. There’s an uber-talented singer who gets to shine her light onstage as long as she puts up with Ike Turner beating her down offstage. And put up she did, for many years. That story consumes the first act.
There’s much to praise in that first act. Clearly, there’s Groover’s Tina. There’s also Roderick Lawrence’s Ike, so suave and cunning with his confident fast talk and gravelly voice, and absolutely vile most any time he’s on stage, with his prickly, insecure, control-freak self. The songs “Better Be Good to Me” and “River Deep – Mountain High” feature both clever staging and chills-giving vocals.
But there are some dicey points in the first act, too, which serve as an unfortunate foreshadow of much worse to come after the intermission.
Throughout, the set design seems like an afterthought; and the pervasive, intrusive projection design is positively ghastly. (You know it’s bad when I scribble down “Islands in the Stream” — recalling not the famous Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers duet itself, but the terrible graphics in a dated karaoke video for it playing at a Chinese restaurant lounge on Aurora — three separate times.)
I could happily overlook the design issues if the story and staging made sense, but no such luck. I’ll just name a few lowlights, since no one wants to sit through a full rehash of them. Tina’s backstage Buddhist chanting, which pops up three or four times in the production, makes little sense when it’s given no context for how she came to, and found strength in, her Buddhist faith. The transitions into and out of the chanting, and several other key places, were abrupt and bizarre. (Heading to her mom’s deathbed, for example, suddenly looked like a soap opera.) Nearly the entire second act is like a really bad, and dated, British comedy.
And that’s really the biggest problem here. In the vital rise of Tina’s life, as she’s building herself up again from all of Ike’s shit and abuse and ruin, just about all we get of it is some British dudes screwing off in a studio, and Tina finally coming to her senses to record the song they wanted her to (the eventual mega-hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”). The attempts to give more than that fall into dismal and oh-so-corny staging. We feel Tina’s grit, and her talent, and her voice, but get very little else. And following on the shoulders of the now 30-year-old film, in which her story was irrevocably tied to Ike’s abuse, we crave a more substantive second act.
Before and after the musical, we know full well that Tina made the most of her own second act. It’s a shame that Tina: The Tina Turner Musical doesn’t do the same.
But this cast is grand and transcends the show’s many hiccups. And Groover’s performance will have you celebrating the beauty and grit of the once and forever Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’ book by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Music directed and conducted by Anne Shuttlesworth. Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast. Set and costumes designed by Mark Thompson; projections designed by Jeff Sugg; sound design by Nevin Steinberg; lighting by Bruno Poet; wigs, hair, and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates. Full program here.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical runs through 9/17 at the Paramount Theatre in Downtown Seattle. Tickets here. Accessibility notes: main restrooms downstairs and upstairs are gendered and multi-stall, with gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms on the main floor. Theatre and some common areas are wheelchair accessible. ASL interpreted and audio-described performance on 9/17 (matinee), open-captioned performance on on 9/17 (evening); see notes on ticketing page for best accessible seating options.
Run time: 2 hours 45 minutes, with intermission.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.