Tina Turner was one of the most powerful and unique performers to take a stage. Ergo, if you’re going to do a Tina jukebox musical that tells her story, you’d better have someone who can deliver the swagger, the sensuality, the moves, the energy, the phrasing, and above all, the voice.
Adrienne Warren won a Tony for what was, by virtually all accounts, a remarkable portrayal of Tina on Broadway after originating the role on London’s West End. The cast recording that was released with Warren was remarkable. Naomi Rodgers and Zurin Villanueva were to have alternated portraying Tina during the Chicago run but Rodgers is on temporary leave from the production, so Ari Groover has stepped in for her during the entire Chicago run.
It was Villanueva, however, who performed as Tina on opening night. She is certainly a capable performer but to these ears and eyes, there is little Tina-esque about her portrayal. Tina was a growling contralto, Villanueva is a shrieking soprano. Tina sang from her diaphragm, Villanueva uses a head voice. Tina’s phrasing was free and flexible. Villanueva is static and tight. Even their body types and speaking voices have little in common. This Tina is a caricature.
Alas, the book doesn’t help by focusing on the physical abuse Tina experienced from Ike Turner (Garrett Turner), constantly choosing to graphically place it in our faces between unrelated music interludes. When Tina finally chooses to respond violently, she is cheered on by the audience.
There is so much that is fascinating about Tina Turner that is glossed over here: she is shown chanting but her journey to Buddhism is never dealt with. Nor is her second—and by all reports happy—marriage for the last twenty-eight years which moved her to Europe where she became a Swiss citizen. We see the beginning of her relationship with Erwin Bach (Max Falls) but the story ends in 1988 with a solo concert in Rio with elaborate stage effects.
“Tina, The Tina Turner Musical” at Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph, broadwayinchicago.org. Through April 2.