“TINA - The Tina Turner Musical” at the Fox turns tragedy into triumph
By Joanne Fistere
The biographical jukebox musical of the famed singer’s life “Tina - The Tina Turner Musical” premiered on Broadway in late 2019 and, after the COVID hiatus, garnered twelve Tony nominations in 2020, with the lead actress winning for Best Performance. The story starts out with her meager beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, as a young Anna Mae Bullock disrupts a community church gathering with her exuberant singing. We follow the course of her life as she becomes “Tina” of the “Ike and Tina Turner Revue” and the rocky terrain that leads her to the solo career of Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock and Roll.
I did some research on what defines a “jukebox musical” and it turns out there really isn’t a clear definition. The closest I could find is that it is a musical built around an existing body of music whether of a particular artist or group or a particular genre. Sometimes it is biographical and based in reality, sometimes it is purely fictional, and a plot is manufactured to fit around a group of existing songs. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of the genre mainly because oftentimes it’s difficult to find a plot and if there is a plot more often than not it’s a square peg being crammed into a teeny tiny round hole. I’m delighted to report that this is NOT the case with “Tina - The Tina Turner Musical”. Yes, there are Ike and Tina songs throughout the first act; and yes, there are Tina Turner songs throughout the second act, ergo “jukebox musical”. But largely they enhance the story with a few exceptions. One exception comes in the first act with the use of the song “Let’s Stay Together” between the characters Raymond and Tina declaring their love for each other under the suspicious eye of Ike Turner. Another exception in the second act is “We Don’t Need Another Hero” sung by Tina, Young Anna-Mae, and the ensemble as part of a funeral dirge. Both seem forced uses of songs unintended for the plot points in question. However, what makes this particular “jukebox musical” stand out are some additional songs and music by Nicholas Skilbeck that blend beautifully with the existing bodies of work as well.
But “Tina - The Tina Turner Musical” would not work without just the right Tina. And Parris Lewis (who alternates the role with Ari Groover) is absolute perfection in this role. Brianna Cameron as young Anna Mae Bullock (who alternates the role with Symphony King) is also a wonder to behold and you can see just how that young voice becomes this powerhouse of a star. The entire cast hold their own especially standouts Roz White as Zelma, Deon Releford-Lee as Ike, and Wydetta Carter as Gran Georgeanna.
The sets, video projections, and costumes, all designed by Mark Thompson, work really well to take us from Nutbush across the country, and from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. Choreographer Anthony Van Laast captures Tina’s spirit perfectly as well as the dances of the various time periods. The five-piece band that sits on stage is electrifying and fills the Fabulous Fox beautifully.
Ms. Turner’s story is one for the ages that needs to be told and SUNG to the rafters. And how apt that St. Louis is a stop on the tour when “Tina Turner” was virtually born in St. Louis as she met Ike Turner here. While her rise to ultimate solo stardom and the moniker “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was rocky and filled with adversity, she overcame every obstacle, and her story became one of triumph and victory. The encore at The Fabulous Fox on opening night brought the audience to their feet in joyous celebration, and it felt like we all needed it.
“Tina - The Tina Turner Musical” at The Fabulous Fox runs through November 26th. For tickets and information go to The Fabulous Fox website.