Review: TINA – The Tina Turner Musical @ QPAC (Brisbane)

'TINA – The Tina Turner Musical' - Image © Daniel Boud
Despite having written over 100 pieces for scenestr, this country gal reared on good music (thanks dad) still suffers imposter syndrome when presented with opportunities to interview artists and paint a picture of live acts. Pinch-me moments include interviewing Butch Vig, Vance Joy, Groove Armada and John Taylor from Duran Duran.

The opening night of ‘TINA – The Tina Turner Musical’ (5 July) is a glittering, triumphant homage to the legacy of the late, great Queen of Rock 'n' Roll.

Starring Ruva Ngwenya in the lead role, the award-winning bio-musical celebrates the rise of Anna-Mae Bullock from Nashville, Tennessee, to the chart-topping singer, songwriter and actress globally known as Tina Turner.

Opening with Tina preparing to go on stage while intoning a Buddhist chant nam myoho renge kyo, the production enters memories of her humble, cotton-picking childhood before propelling the audience through her unparalleled and difficult rise to fame.

Spanning her strict, gospel upbringing with a pastor father, Richard (Augie Tchantcho), to her fateful discovery and ensuing marriage and musical partnership with Mississippi-born bluesman, Ike Turner (Giovanni Adams), Act One plays out Turner’s many personal hardships, highlighting the extraordinariness of both her professional and personal victories.

Such is the breadth of Turner’s solo catalogue that many tracks are used in this largely pre-solo career chapter, from the poignant farewell of the ‘Don’t Turn Around’ duet with her encouraging gran, GG (Deni Gordon), to the ironic ‘Better Be Good To Me’ in a scene with Ike.

Tina’s and Ike’s abusive marriage is well-documented, and the violent scenes between the pair are wincingly convincing. Testament to this is many in the audience (including myself) letting out a cheer when Tina finally gathers the strength to retaliate in self-defence. Indeed, the instants in which Tina’s fighting spirit takes on not only Ike but also the ageism and racism she encounters within the music industry are clear crowd favourites, with cast members often having to delay delivering their lines until the applause fades.

Tense scenes are balanced with comic relief, with the biggest laughs stirring during the moment Turner is first pitched a synth pop version of her three-Grammy-winning smash hit ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’. Comfort is also found in the delicate reappearances of GG, a young Anna-Mae (Samara Wheeler) and cotton-pickers emerging from the shadows in quiet allegiance in times of hardship.

Tina DanielBOud 1
Image © Daniel Boud

The production’s minimal set does not diminish the on-stage razzle-dazzle, with subtle video, lighting, sliding stages and sound taking a perfectly executed backseat. One scene however which lacks for me is that between Tina and her manager Rhonda Graam (Nadia Komazec) as they perform the ballad ‘Open Arms’. Here, this reviewer feels a deep absence of visual warmth, and yearns for an accompanying video montage showcasing the pair’s long-standing friendship and commitment.

Well into the show’s more than 20 iconic songs, by Act Two Ngwenya’s thorough study of Turner’s on-stage persona is undeniable, from her trademark facial expressions, high-energy dance moves, raspy vocals and growls. As hit after hit keeps coming including the sultry ‘Private Dancer’, electrifying ‘Disco Inferno’ and anthemic ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’, the energy inside the Lyric Theatre reaches fever pitch when the beating pulse of the opening bars of ‘(Simply) The Best’ begin.

Unhesitatingly obliging Ngwenya’s request to get to our feet, there is no denying just how firmly Turner’s musical legacy is etched in the Aussie psyche, as the sold-out crowd wholeheartedly join in belting out the tune largely considered the nation’s NRL anthem.

Turner’s treasured place in the nation’s heart is further reinforced with ‘Nutbush City Limits’ – the soundtrack to a uniquely Australian dance phenomenon – kicking off the encore. Rollin’ into Turner’s upbeat cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’, the entire cast brings the Lyric Theatre house down while raising the roof.

Chronicling the highs and lows, glitz and glamour and sheer resilience of one of the top recording artists of all time, ‘TINA – The Tina Turner Musical’ is simply the best musical I’ve ever seen (pun 100 percent intended).

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