‘Tina’ the musical: a review

Ann-Nesby-as-Gran-Georgeanna-in-the-North-American-touring-production-of-TINA-–-THE-TINA-TURNER-MUSICAL.-Photo-by-Matthew-Murphy-and-Evan-Zimmerman-for-MurphyMade-2022-1400x933, ‘Tina' the musical: a review, Culture Currents News & Views
Ann Nesby as ‘Gran Georgeanna’ in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022

by Zaire Saunders

If you are a fan of bombastic light shows reminiscent of concerts, Black music performed with passion, then the Tina musical is for you. The play adapts and depicts the turbulent life of Black musical legend, “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Tina Turner.

When the play opened, the audience whooped and hollered in delight at the sighting of Tina’s silhouette. The play immediately felt like a concert. So much so that when a rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s stay together” was sung, the audience immediately responded to the crooning of the actor’s voice. Some even joined in, humming and singing along. 

Superb actors are a part of this show. From young to elders –  the anguish and torment, love, naivety and rebirth are channeled effectively. The struggle of Tina Turner and her friends and family are on full display, with great numbers to accompany the scenes. 

The performance that struck me the most was Tina Turner’s grandmother. In the scene, after we learn of Tina’s – then still Anna Mae – recent love affair with a boy her grandmother disapproves of, the scene culminates in a musical number that brought tears to my eyes. Tina’s grandmother explains that Tina is needed elsewhere, preferably up North, where her mother can watch her and her talents can be developed further. 

It must be said that the protagonist is Tina and the antagonist is abuse. Blatantly, nearly every scene is filled with depictions of violence. Some verbal and emotional. Most physical. And yet, I found myself still hoping to see more than just the rising out of abuse into fame. I wanted to see a chance at love that redeems all and exposes the cycle of abuse, not solely as a horrid manifestation of insecurities, but as a social program that is proliferated and sanctioned every day. 

The audience’s laughter and giggles at the depictions of righteous retribution that came from Tina and her mother when they stood up to their abusers was bitter. If the play was asking whether or not intimate partner violence should be met with more violence, some if not most didn’t get the answer, judging from the hysterical cries of joy – the glee from knowing another Black face will be beaten. 

“Diving into the lives and hurt of broken black men is some of the best work I can do, not just for myself but to round out these stories of Black men literally broken by this country. None of that excuse what Ike did, but the story of Rock N Roll must be told,” Roderick Lawrence said, who plays Ike Turner in the play.

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Rodrick Lawrence

Nuanced stories of Black people are hard to acquire, both fictionalized and for the living. When you are presented with the racist, abusive and sexist society we live in, you’re bound to miss the message . In fact, when the actors came on stage to bow to the audience, many hesitated to cheer on the wonderful performance of a man scorned and cursed with abuse and torment of his own, all for a role.

 I understand that seeing the tenacity of Black women and their survival in a world hellbent on demolishing their spirit is uplifting. I even understand that this is a play about Tina Turner, an icon whose earlier description of Black women fits to the T.  I just wish the exploration of abuse was further developed. Black people are tormented, some more so than others, but torment can’t and won’t stop further Black exploitation. And many missed the idea that the torment we face is because of the white supremacist society Black people are forced to survive under. 

I wince at the idea of casually mentioning the exploitation of Black people that the Western world has built itself on. Moments of the play read as “Yeah, we took your music for the Beatles. Yes, we had Tina Turner working in the fields. But we gave her the chance to make us more music. To be in more magazines. You can rise up past those who stifle you and we will make you a star.” 

Not, as it seems from the play, the violent system of enslavement that this country has built out of abuse. I wonder how many left the theater, decadent and proud of watching Tina Turner’s story, thought about the society they would walk back out to, filled with abuse literally from the start of our and searching for their next symbol of freedom and stardom.