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Tina - The Tina Turner Musical|
Look, I am singing gigs all night and I'm scrubbing toilets all day just to keep a roof over our heads. — Tina Turner
Adrienne Warren (Photo: Manuel Harla)n
Broadway's latest jukebox musical combines the story of the woman who rose from modest beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to became the global Queen of Rock 'n Roll with oodles of her hit songs and a roof-raising finale that gives fresh definition to wow.

Directed by Phyllida LLoyd and written by Katori Hall, (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), the bio- musical premiered at London's Aldwych Theatre in April 2018 and became the darling of the critics there. (review with song listl). The biggest buzz of course revolved around Adrienne Warren, who originated the nominal role in London and now reprises it in New York.

And, dear readers, you can stop holding your breath. I'm happy to report that the hype about Warren is justified (start the drum-roll for a Tony nomination!) Warren has the right looks, moves (snappy choreography by Anthony Van Laast), and the musical chops to carry her through this almost 3-hour extravaganza.

The musical is being plugged as the "untold" story of Tina Turner. And whether or not you take that literally, it comes with the blessing of the real Tina Turner who is associated with the project and even appeared at the Lunt-Fontanne for opening night, delivering a heart-felt speech from the stage, and delighting theatergoers.

I found that many of the musical's episodes dove-tail with the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It that starred Angela Bassett as Tina. But, of course, the current show sees the beloved icon take on flesh and blood and listening to her Buddhist chants waft over the footlights.

Okay, this production does have chinks in its armour. And its major problem is Hall's book. Hall begins just fine with a church-scene in Nutbush, Tennessee, with the pint-sized Anna Mae Bullock (Tina Turner's birth name) singing louder than anybody else in the God-fearing Baptist choir. But Hall can't always keep the ball in the air for the entire arc of the narrative: the singer's teaming up with Ike Turner, the repeated domestic abuse, the couple's divorce, Tina's rejection by the white-dominated musical world, and then her glorious comeback as an international solo performer.

Unsurprisingly, Hall runs smack into the problem that all musical book writers encounter as they try to create a viable narrative while shoe-horning in a catalogue of songs (there are 23 in all). Call it the constraints of the genre, or the thorn in the rose, Hall falters at times and clunks in the musical's machinery, now and then, can be heard. Case in point: The song "River Deep, Mountain High" acts as a prelude to a blow-out fight between Ike and Tina over the black-and-white color divide in the music industry. Fortunately, the guitar licks for "Proud Mary" soon interrupt this rough-edged episode, and the narrative and music find its groove again.

While the star-turn belongs to Warren, she's not the only one twinkling on stage. Daniel J. Watts, as Ike Turner, does an admirable job in ensuring that you see the singer not merely as a villain but as a complex man with human failings. Watts' Ike might not be likable but you can sympathize with his anguish over competing with the likes of Elvis ("Hear that, Tina. I'm the King! Elvis can go to hell.) Yes, professional jealousy is spoken loud and clear here. And it's a true reflection of the feuds between the music moguls of the times.

The pint-sized Skye Dakota Turner, as Young Anna-Mae, delivers an amazing performance, with sturdy pipes that can carry to the last row of the rear mezzanine. And the large supporting cast who, though never outshining Warren's performance, have their own dramatic moments.

Lloyd, who recently has been immersed in directing all-female productions of Shakespeare's plays, returns to her musical roots with Tina. Lloyd directed the international mega-hit Mamma Mia and now proves that she still has the stuff to helm a jukebox musical that brings people to their feet.

No slouches in the creative team. Mark Thompson's protean set, abetted by Bruno Poet's kaleidoscopic lighting, shifts from realistic church interiors . . . to semi-abstract spaces with Monet-like backdrops . . . to the glittering, multi-leveled nightclub at the finale. The costumes (Thompson again) are a mix of humble church-going clothes, plain working-class outfits, and flashy attire that would fit right in at Caesar's Palace.

With the arrival of Tina on Broadway the jukebox genre takes on a feminist sound and a modern social conscience. Indeed, it may well be the first me-too musical of the millennial.

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Tina- The Tina Turner Musical
Book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast
Cast: Adrienne Warren(Tina Turne, Nikeki Obi-Melekwe on Wednesday and Saturday matineee wnr 11/24, 12/22, 6/07), Daniel J. Watts (Ike Turner), Dawn Lewis (Zelma), Myra Lucretia Taylor(Gran Georgeanna); also Steven Booth, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Gerald Caesar, Holli’ Conway, Kayla Dav Leandra Ellis-Gaston, Charlie Franklin, Judith Franklin, Matthew Griffin, Sheldon Henry, David Jennings, Ross Lekites, Robert Lenzi, Gloria Manning, Rob Marnell, Mehret Marsh, Jhardon DiShon Milton, Destinee Rea, Mars Rucker, Jessica Rush, Justin Schuman, Alyssa Shorte, Carla Stewart, Jayden Theophile, Skye Dakota Turner, Antonio Watson and Katie Webber.
Set and costume designs by Mark Thompson
Musical supervision, additional music and arrangements by Nicholas Skilbeck
Lighting by Bruno Poet
Sound by Nevin Steinberg,
Projection design by Jeff Sugg
Oorchestrations by Ethan Popp
Running time: 1 hour; 45 minutes with one intermission
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 205 West 46th Street
From 10/12/19; opening m 11/07/19
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 11/14/19

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