I walked into Tina- The Tina Turner Musical on Wednesday night not knowing much about Tina Turner and left with a whole new appreciation for the superstar. We all know her songs and I feel like the majority of us probably know that she went through hell and back throughout her life but I truly didn’t know the specifics of it all so I was completely enthralled as I watched her life unfold in front of my eyes at The Orpheum Theatre.
The theatre was absolutely packed as my friend and I found our seats. Mostly older people, there was an air of excitement for this show. Not only was it opening night for this musical but it was also just a nice escape from the constant onslaught of winter weather that we have all been going through lately. My friend and I speculated as to what we were about to witness as we both, admittingly, didn’t know much about what to expect and that just added to the air of excitement.
Right off the bat, I was struck by the careful and well-calculated imagery that kicks off this musical production and comes in and out of play throughout the entirety. It’s hard to explain as I don’t want to ruin the power that comes with the opening scene and some of the other scenes throughout the performance but the way they convey the importance of Tina’s history and childhood is truly brilliant. Beyond the imagery was the sheer vocal power of the actress playing young Anna-Mae (Tina Turner’s real name). Ayvah Johnson, the actress, couldn’t have been much older than ten but, from the minute the performance started and until the bitter end, I felt like she really stole the show which was more than impressive.
As one might expect, Tina- The Tina Turner Musical goes through Tina’s life to tell her rollercoaster of a life. They did not hold back. We were given all of the details, both good and bad, during the performance. There were times when we were watching the spousal abuse that happened between Tina and Ike Turner where there was a tense feeling throughout the audience. I love musicals but I think this was the first time that I experienced a performance with such dark and intimate moments and I honestly didn’t know how to digest them as I sat in my seat. I think that goes to show just how well these moments were conveyed by the cast. There were also moments where we were able to share in Tina’s triumph, especially during her comeback towards the end of the story. I feel like I went through so many emotions during the two hours and forty minutes I sat there but that was, oddly, a gorgeous feeling
Beyond the storytelling were the song performances which, full disclosure, were the highlights of the musical for me. I’ll be the first to admit that I really didn’t know that many of the songs that happened throughout Wednesday night but that didn’t stop me from enjoying them. I feel like actress Parris Lewis really embodied the superstar with not only her looks and movements but, more importantly, her voice. Although the parts sung by young Anna-Mae really got the biggest response from the crowd, there was no denying the power in Parris’ voice either. Between her vocals, on-stage costume changes, dancing, the heels– Parris just really did a stunning job honoring Tina Turner and making sure that the takeaway from Wednesday night’s performance was the talent that Tina brings to the world to this day.
There were a few replacements in the casting for Wednesday night’s performance. Okay, there were a lot, and I fear that some of the understudies that were in the spotlight for the show let their nerves get the best of them. There were moments throughout the performance where it just felt a little rough. From times when the synchronized dancing was off ever so slightly to times when the vocal performances didn’t seem to match up with the instrumentation coming from below the stage in the pit, I just felt like the performance on Wednesday night was a bit rough around the edges and there were times where I felt that the show just lacked the power that I would expect from certain moments. Even with putting that out there, I want to praise the entire cast because, although I could nitpick and talk about what I didn’t like, overall it was a stunning show.
As mentioned, my favorite parts of the musical on Wednesday night were the song performances so it was the icing on the cake that the musical ended with an “encore performance” where Tina and “her girls” performed two final songs before leaving the stage. Visually, I felt like this was the most stunning part of the show. With bright lights on the audience and a small staircase leading to nowhere so you were left with the silhouette of Tina as a final image, maybe it’s the rock show addict in me but I felt most engaged during the ending and really just enjoyed getting that final taste of Tina’s music before being ushered back out into the cold Minnesota air.