The Ike and Tina Turner Revue band has taken their places on stage. Bright-colored lights consume the space – a mix of orange, blue, yellow, and a hint of green. The band is at the back with their instruments while the backup dancers decked out in gold take stage right. As the music starts to play, the dancers slowly begin to move – rocking back and forth. Slowly Tina Turner (Zurin Villanueva) enters with the same choreography. The packed Opening Night audience erupts with cheers and applause as she takes her place in a sparkling gold, fringe dress.
Those familiar with Tina Turner’s music may recognize the opening cords as soon as they begin to play. It was clear quite a few in this opening night crowd certainly fall into that category. For those less familiar, you might simply find yourself enthralled by Villanueva’s stage presence – clearly enjoying every minute of the music’s rhythm. Then slowly, she begins to share the song’s opening:
“You know, every now and then
I think you might like to hear something from us
Nice and easy
But there's just one thing
You see we never ever do nothing
We always do it nice and rough
So we're gonna take the beginning of this song
And do it easy
But then we're gonna do the finish rough
This is the way we do ‘Proud Mary’”
At the mention of Proud Mary, the audience cheers yet again. As Tina begins to sing “And we’re rolling,” the applause at this performance was through the roof. This is perhaps one of the band’s most famous songs, and the opening night audience was clearly ready to watch Villanueva rock the house with it.
Broadway in Chicago presents TINA: The Tina Turner Musical
With book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, the biopic musical follows the life of Tina Turner (at this performance portrayed by Zurin Villanueva). From early childhood, the woman did not have it easy – beginning with Zelma (Ann Nesby), a mother who abandoned her at a young age and then continuing with an abusive relationship with her husband and band-partner Ike Turner (Garrett Turner). Tina had a unique and powerhouse voice that could leave crowds in awe, and the musical explores the many challenging obstacles that stood in her way to becoming one of the world’s best-selling artists of today.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, this is at its heart a jukebox musical – featuring a range of Tina Turner’s famous hits from A Fool in Love and Proud Mary to I Can’t Stand the Rain and What’s Love Got to Do With It. You will likely agree with this reviewer and the enthusiastic opening night crowd that Villanueva steals the show—embodying Tina Turner’s powerhouse voice in what might be astounding to some – especially considering the uniqueness of the sound. The score alone makes this musical a perfect fit for the die-hard Tina Turner fans. However, even if you are less familiar with her work, you may find yourself drawn to the inspiring story that connects the musical pieces. It is a moving account of a woman who rises above more heartbreaking challenges than any one individual should ever have to face. While much of the musical almost feels like a rock concert, the story also explores some challenging terrain – particularly in the details of Ike and Tina’s 16-year marriage and the abuse she had to endure.
Deeply Emotional Performances
In one particularly heated moment, we see Tina break free – running away from Ike and into the streets of the city the band is visiting. This is one of the few moments so far we have seen Tina alone on stage – still in costume from that evening’s concert, but certainly with a little less sparkle. Tina enters a hotel and as she looks to the audience, it is clear we as an audience become the hotel manager to whom she is speaking. She has no money to her name and begs for kindness – a room for the night so she can have some safe refuge from Ike. Her pleas are met with silence, and with a bare stage, you may find it is impossible to focus on anything other than the building tension. Slowly a smile forms on her face – Tina has found refuge for the evening and we see a hotel key in her hand.
Villanueva’s performance is gut-wrenching. As she began to sing I Don’t Wanna Fight No More, this particular audience was silent. If you’re anything like this writer, your silence may have been a result of your leaning in – rooting for this woman and wanting to see her succeed.
Jaw-dropping performances and an inspiring story make TINA: The Tina Turner Musical a larger-than-life theatrical event from start to finish.
March 14 – April 2, 2023
James M. Nederlander Theatre
24 W. Randolph St.
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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