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Simply the best: Proof that it takes two Tinas to be a Turner

Ruva Ngwenya captures much of Tina Turner's vocal style and energy in <i>Tina – The Tina Turner Musical</i>.

Ruva Ngwenya captures much of Tina Turner's vocal style and energy in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. Photo: Daniel Boud

Tina traces her beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock, the daughter of a poor Tennessee share-cropping family, through her passion for singing, her stormy relationship with band leader Ike Turner and escape from that, and a persistence that helped her establish a reputation as the “Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll”.

The star is Ruva Ngwenya, who captures much of the charismatic Turner’s vocal style and shows great energy in the beautifully choreographed performances.

The first half of the musical is devoted to Turner’s life up to breaking with Ike (Giovanni Adams), which means that a dark period of her story is quite dominant.

Struggling against the odds to emerge with deserved success is a staple narrative arc that has added appeal in Turner’s case, given her popularity, charisma and vocal talent. It is also affirming, accentuating her sense of self-belief and celebrating life.

Focusing on threshold moments does compress the tale. Key points are simplified and roles offered in caricature. Staccato storytelling can be overlooked, though, given the musical talent on stage.

The songs are a delight. Key performances include Nutbush City Limits, which has inspired mass line dancing worldwide, and a tenderly moving duet by Ngwenya and Rishab Kern (as singer and musician Raymond Hill) of Let’s Stay Together.

Ike’s proposal is matched with Tina’s forceful Better Be Good to Me – a rather obvious pairing of situation and lyrical sentiment, but nonetheless very engaging.

A stand-out, replicating producer Phil Spector’s trademark “wall of sound” mode, is River Deep, Mountain High, complete with a backing choir. The audience was immediately stirred to huge cheers.

Pumping up the atmosphere a notch was a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, complete with scintillating back-up vocals.

When Tina breaks from Ike, she returns some of his own physical violence, prompting cheers from the audience. Make of that excited reaction what you will.

For all Turner’s on-stage power and electrifying presence, there was a calm interior, with strength found in Buddhism. Reflecting that, I Don’t Wanna Fight marks a turn in the story with the expression of calmly triumphant personal confidence.

Still, there were the Vegas years ahead (referred to as “the singer’s graveyard”), shown through a dynamic Disco Inferno with sequins, flares, and amazing dance routines.

Disgruntled, Turner tried recording in London, at the cost of leaving family behind. Her sense of loss and failure there is echoed in I Can’t Stand the Rain, sung against a clever backdrop.

That low point is thrust aside with a dynamic rendition of What’s Love Got to Do With It?, reflecting her period at The Ritz. This is fully amped, with great singing, plus excellent dancing that ranges quickly from twitchy to fluid.

The hospital scene is unconvincing, though it serves the purpose of promoting the idea that Turner “raised herself”. The anthemic We Don’t Need Another Hero that follows is well executed but not very relevant to the situation.

A big musical thrill comes with Simply the Best, combining true love and the moment of Turner’s huge concert in Brazil. The stagecraft is compelling and the band simply marvellous.

The show closes with a brass-drenched reprise of both Nutbush and Proud Mary.

Tina Turner fans will love this presentation.

The costuming is great, with hairstyles also a big element in marking the changes of time. The lighting is, to coin a phrase, brilliant. The essential ingredients, singing and dancing, remind us of the vitality and glorious talent that Turner possessed.

As Turner said, there were two aspects to her, one quiet and private and the other featuring her artistic side, with an overlap. Tina – The Tina Turner Musical offers some of both.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, produced by Paul Dainty/TEG DAINTY, plays at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide until May 31. It will be showing in Brisbane from June, and Melbourne from September.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

InReview is an open access, non-profit arts and culture journalism project. Readers can support our work with a donation. Subscribe to InReview’s free weekly newsletter here.

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