One of my favorite perks of press tickets is almost always getting an aisle seat. This was especially true for Tina—not only because I’m 5’10” and had a little more room to cross my legs, but because I was mesmerized by the tapping toes of so many feet along the aisle, each with their own spotlight from the safety lights, tapping to the rhythm number after number after number.
That’s the thing about Tina Turner’s music…You can’t help but feel it in your body. We see from the start that Tina Turner (originally Anna Mae Bullock) felt music in her bones. She was reprimanded by her mother for being ‘too much’ at church—dancing in the aisles and singing out louder than everyone else. When she broke into the music business, Tina choreographed all her and her back up girls’ moves. And her choreography was not the norm (especially for female artists at the time). Tina Turner would’ve been caught dead before she beveled in a step-touch, swaying her wrists subtly at her sides. With a grounded stance, arched back, and electrifying shimmy (not just with her shoulders, but with her whole being), Tina Turner revised what it could look like to be a female R&B performer. Though her passionate abandon on the stage felt contrary to the subdued, poised air of the Ronettes, Supremes, or Pointer Sisters, Tina Turner was the ultimate embodiment of femininity rather than a plastic mold of what a lady should be.
In general, I am a fan of the jukebox musical. Sure, they’re imperfect. But more often than not, I learn about the history of the musician or band, I gain a fuller appreciation for the art and artist(s), and I leave inspired to read, watch, and listen to understand even more. I didn’t know much of Tina Turner’s story besides her chart-topping hits and that she had a difficult personal life. My main criticism is that this show is only about Tina Turner. Now, that probably seems obvious, but hear me out…The framework of the show is so focused on Tina that you don’t really care about anyone else in the story (her mother, manager, husband, lover, children…). Characters are de-complicated and depicted as either good or bad, simplified to bullet points in Tina’s story rather than as comparably complex humans with strengths, flaws, passions, and purpose. Of course, this musical is about Tina Turner. But without making meaning of the relationships as anything more than stepping stones, it really all feels like “Tina against the world.” And then again…maybe that is intentional.
Anthony van Laast’s choreography is vibrant, captivating, and tracks the evolution of Tina Turner through her movement vocabulary. This aligns with his dynamic and distinctive work on prior shows like Sister Act, Joseph…, Mamma Mia!, and Bombay Dreams. Again—and perhaps this too is intentional—Tina’s energy and sparkle are so unmatched that you don’t watch anyone else. When I took my eyes away from Tina (played that evening by the bewitching Kayla Davion) to focus on her backup girls, it felt like they were marking only because Tina’s power was revved up to 200%.
Were the show not such a marathon for Tina, I would have cut some of the dialogue and incidental songs for more big concert moments. The audience was completely mesmerized by these concert scenes. With the show produced by Tina Turner herself (and, of course, a team of other players), the namesake performances have her stamp of approval. And with Tina retired from the stage (now 82 years old) Tina: The Musical affords audiences of different generations and backgrounds the opportunity to experience Tina Turner—well, something different but still magical—and her story live in essentially in her own words.
I loved every minute of the dancing in Tina. It reminds me that there is no one way women (or anyone for that matter) have to move in order to be beautiful or strong or sexy. There is power in being grounded with a wide stance and soft knees rather than tightly pulled up as if you’d blow over with a tiny gust of wind. There is honesty in initiating movement from one’s center (both physically and spiritually) instead of hitting a perfect position or pose. There is tremendous freedom to move in ways that might not always turn out picture-perfect pretty. What agency does that give to women—to anyone for that matter? How does this parallel the supposed superiority of Western dance forms, the gender roles still so embedded in this art, and the dichotomy of elite versus street styles even today. I’m not bashing any genre of dance. There is something so elegant and strong and striking in a showgirl bevel, a pointed and winged foot, perfect precision choreography. But there is also something relieving and empowering in breaking that all down.