Katori Hall Hits High Notes of Tina’s Titanic Tale
by Barry David Horwitz
You don’t have to be a Tina Turner fan to enjoy “Tina—The Tina Turner Musical” at BroadwaySF. If you are breathing, the show will shock you with the abuse visited on a little girl who needs to dance and sing.
Zurin Villaneuva’s performance as Tina is mesmerizing. Villaneuva makes Tina’s magic with her thrilling vibrato, her Tina-esque trills, and her electrifying moves. In front of Bruno Poet’s flashing lights and Jeff Sugg’s hypnotic geometric shapes, she channels the terrific Turner magic.
Tina’s songs are all there—”Nutbush City Limits,” “She Made My Blood Run Cold,” “River Deep—Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “Private Dancer”—anthems of liberation echoing down the decades. The brilliantly presented songs don’t always fit Katori Hall’s fast-moving book, but it doesn’t matter—Tina is in the house!
We empathize with the child who was too much for her mother to handle. As her mother, Roz White makes a persuasive, even vulnerable tyrant. And as Anna Mae, the future Tina, little Ayvah Johnson, belts it out, making us believers in her destiny.
Unhappily, mother and child are also the victim of violence from a preacher husband and father. Then Tina falls victim to Ike Turner who pays off her mother to capture a unique talent. As Ike, Roderick Lawrence makes a conniving, manipulative abuser. Act One unfolds a melodramatic tale of parental and spousal abuse—the story of Tina’s escape and rise.
These are stories of women, especially Black women, being rejected and belittled in the patriarchal pressure cooker. As her true early love, Gerard M. Williams, makes an attractive and affectionate lover—their scene together touches our hearts. But we know what’s in store for Tina.
Constantly exploited and betrayed by men in charge, the male-dominated music industry refuses to recognize the talents of a vibrant Black woman. Following the wisdom of her grandmother (delightful Nicole Powell), Anna Mae insists on her own voice.
A few people come to her rescue—a hotel clerk and an encouraging English record producer Erwin Bach (affectionate Max Falls)—and she triumphs over the racism and abuse that dominate the Anglo-American music business. By the time she’s the Queen of Rock and Roll, presiding over Mad Max in Thunderdome and singing “We Don’t Need Any Heroes,” we all can recognize her genius and her struggle.
Even though the songs don’t always fit the juke-box journey, the story is familiar and flies by. Villaneuva pulls at our heart strings with the sheer power of her own voice and presence. She melds herself with the genius of Tina Turner’s vast musical gifts.
Villaneuva belts out “Proud Mary”: “And we rollin’ rollin’ / Rollin’ on the river / Listen to the story now… “ Then, we know we are in safe harbor with her immense talents and the super talented cast that supports her.
By the end, we are all on our feet, swaying to the vibrant encores, the musical genius, and the extraordinary staging and lighting of this one-of-a-kind show. The musical makes us love Tina’s accomplishments even more.
“Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” –book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar & Kees Prins, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, at BroadwaySF, Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco. Info: BroadwaySF – to August 27, 2023.
Cast: Naomi Rodgers & Zurin Villanueva (alternating as Tina), Roderick Lawrence, Roz White, Nicole Powell, and Lael Van Keuren.
Ensemble: Daelyanna Kelly Benson, Antonio Beverly, Taylor A. Blackman, Aliyah Caldwell, Lillian Charles, Max Falls, Zachary Freier-Harrison, Reyna Guerra, Gordia Hayes, Andre Hinds, Takia Hopson, Ayvah Johnson, Geoffrey Kidwell, Parris Mone’t Lewis, Ann Nesby, Nia Nelson-Williams, Gracie Phillips, Terance Reddick, Shari Washington Rhone, Jacob Roberts-Miller, Aniya Simone, Chris Stevens, Jeff Sullivan, and Carlton Terrence Taylor.
Banner photo: Zurin Villanueva & Ensemble. Photos by MurphyMade