Vivacious Naomi Rodgers and Ayvah Johnson rock 'Tina' on Tour
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, July 29, 2023
The woman herself was a legend, and the performers who embody her on this tour likewise bring live wire energy, heartbreak, and grit to the stage performance as Tina: The Tina Turner Musical swings through San Diego on its first national tour.
The production, which was crafted under the watchful eye of the rockstar herself, is a story told in circular fashion - a Buddhist chant that begins the show also appears in the final scene - but also one that is primarily biographical with some creative license. The audiences meets the exuberant young Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, witness the strife between her parents which result in her being left to be raised by her Gran, and - just like that - we learn that she is on her way to St. Louis to try live with her estranged mother and sister and try to make it big in the rhythm and blues industry. When Anna Mae is snatched up by Ike Turner and his band and redubbed Tina Turner, the wild ride of fame and stardom begins, interspersed with domestic abuse, drug use, a suicide attempt, and Tina's eventual rebirth as an old-but-not-forgotten rock icon.
With book by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, the script feels like it drags a bit longer than it needs to be, especially given the post-bows concert performed by Tina and the band. Nevertheless, all performers, including star-powered Naomi Rodgers, are solid.
Director Phyllida Lloyd has assembled quite the force of nature with this cast which includes Roderick Lawrence, Ann Newsby, Roz White, Lael Van Keuren, Dealyanna Kelly Benson, Antonio Beverly, Karen Burthwright, Aliyah Caldwell, Brianna Cameron, Lillian Charles, Max Falls, Zachary Freier-Harrison, Gordia Hayes, Takia Hopson, Ayvah Johnson, Geoffrey Kidwell, Kendall LeShanti, 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, and, on the night that I saw the show, Deon Releford-Lee swinging in for Andre Hinds' Craig. On alternate nights, the role of Tina is played by Zurin VIllanueva, the double-casting a smart choice due to the rigor and challenge of the book.
The band (directed and conducted by Anne Shuttlesworth) and choreography (Anthony Van Laast) are quick and energetic, a terrific complement to the alternating threat of Ike (Lawrence) and Richard (Ward), and charm of Raymond (Williams), Roger (Freire-Harrison), and Erwin (Falls). The costumes (Mark Thompson are bright and sassy; the lights are electric (Bruno Poet) and rock-show inspired.
That said, Naomi Rodgers and Ayvah Johnson simply steal the show as the leading lady at all eras of her life, wailing with attitude and soul that are worthy of the queen herself. Both the adult and youth versions are simply phenomenal.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical plays at Broadway San Diego's Civic Theatre through July 30.