SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 2, 2023 (Gephardt Daily) — Salt Lake City’s opening night of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” was the first after the May 24 death of the musical icon, and the crowd seemed just a little more subdued than usual while waiting for the curtain to rise.
“I wonder if they know how much pressure is on them,” one audience member said to her friend.
An ensemble member came out in costume, in front of the curtain, to acknowledge Turner’s passing, and the musical legacy she left for current and future fans. Then the company did what has always been its goal, to celebrate an extraordinary life filled with talent, tragedy and triumph.
And it doesn’t skip the tragedy, by the way. “Tina” depicts the life of young Anna Mae Bullock (Turner’s birth name) as starting with a pious father who abused her mother until her mother left with her favorite daughter, choosing to leave Anna Mae behind.
Anna Mae’s tremendous vocal ability — her powerful belting delivery, her breathy, slightly nasal voice, her sliding transitions and soulful interpretations — would be recognized by musician and promoter Ike Turner, who would end up being a controlling and abusive mentor-turned-husband.
Ike’s anger and frustration only grew as Anna Mae, whom he renamed Tina Turner, proved to be the star of the duo. Tina became a fiercely protective mother as well as a hard working singer, still suffering abuse from her philandering husband. The show depicts Tina Turner’s escape, beaten and bloody, to a nearby hotel, with 36 cents in her pocket, before the couple’s divorce after 16 years of marriage.
Act I, while filled with amazing renditions of the songs that made Tina Turner famous, shares decades of trauma in a highly compressed period of time.
Much more hopeful and comfortably paced is Act II, where a broke and tormented Turner, as a solo artist, gets a chance to reinvent herself and to find people who truly appreciate her for who she is.
Naomi Rodgers, who shares the role of Tina with Zurin Villaneuva, was amazing on opening night. She lacks the rasp of the real Tina Turner, but nails the power and the vocal acrobatics. Her dance style is just as frenetic yet controlled. Rogers doesn’t quite have Turner’s long, coltish legs, but who among us does?
While surrounded by capable actors, it was Rodgers who carried the show as she is in nearly every scene, and all but two of the 24 musical numbers.
Also strong in the thankless role of Ike was Roderick Lawrence, who played both the villain of the piece and the older man who came to regret his earlier actions. It takes skill and range to inspire fear, anger and even brief sympathy from an audience.
Carla R. Stewart provided sweetness and respite as Gran Georgeanna, and Roz White was annoyingly perfect as Tina’s impossible-to-please mother. Geoffrey Kidwell as Terry Britten was refreshing as an industry champion for Turner, as was Max Falls as Erwin Bach, who would win Turner’s heart.
“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is a great production, and will continue at the Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., through Sunday, with shows at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. For ticket availability, click here.