Listen: if you don’t know who Tina Turner is, let me bring you up to speed. The “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was born into poverty in rural Tennessee, famously sung about in her hit record “Nutbush City Limits.” Gifted with a powerful, irreplaceable voice, Tina (born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939) was noticed by one Ike Turner; they formed the band known as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The band is great because Tina is great, which makes Tina grow bigger than the band, and she goes on to have the most successful solo career for a woman rock ‘n’ roll singer. Insert the best musical I’ve ever seen.
Broadway is currently on at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale with Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and South Florida Theater Magazine was there opening night to see Naomi Rodgers absolutely steal the show as the titular character. Her confident deliverance and energy was reminiscent of Tina herself, and it showcases why this role is considered to be one of the most difficult on Broadway, but that sure didn’t stop Rodgers. Usually, as I attend performances, I frantically write notes in the dark to recall something I might forget. This time, no such thing happened as I lost track of time and myself, mesmerized by Rodgers.
I could spend the entirety of this review praising her performance, which she deserves, but I will do my due diligence to the other moving parts of this production, still as noteworthy. Tina takes place in the Au-Rene Theater of the Broward Center, a grand venue for a grand performance. The musical was one of the first I’ve seen to forego traditional scenery and stage design by embracing a minimalist standard. The backdrop had the capability to be cropped in and out, even used as a projection screen. When props or furniture were needed, they were pushed onstage and offstage by ensemble members or regular cast members in dim light while the audience’s focus was elsewhere.
Naomi Rodgers as ‘Tina Turner’ in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022
It began with a moment to Tina, all by herself, her back to the audience. She was alone at the bottom of a staircase, leading up to a platform stage, and there was a crowd chanting her name over and over again. She sat down to breathe and contemplate for a moment, and she was taken back to her beginnings and origin from Nutbush, Tennessee. She sang loud in church, but her father (Carlton Terrence Taylor) was cruel to her mother (Roz White). In a whirlwind, her mother left home and her father refused to care for her, leaving her in the hands of another caretaker from the church (Ann Nesby).
Tina grew into a person who sang from the bottom of her soul. One night out, visiting her sister (Parris Lewis) in St. Louis, she sang a lyric that attracted the attention of Ike Turner (Garrett Turner), a legend in the local community. Tina was then born. They traveled, made music, did drugs, and hit records on the music charts. However, Ike had a violent, jealous side. Tina was better at music than him, and he forced her into a marriage and partnership. After years of domestic abuse and stolen money, she fought back and branched out on her own, realizing how big of a star she is.
Garrett Turner as ‘Ike Turner’ in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022
The second act of the musical concerns the rockstar’s difficulty finding a break after her separation from Ike, but after an Australian by the name of Roger Davies (Zachary Freier-Harrison) gives her a shot, she recorded the smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” propelling her solo career into a stratosphere that she once thought was unattainable for her. This scene leads us to the beginning; her back is to the crowd and she starts to climb the stairs, serenaded by her new boyfriend, and they sing “The Best.” It’s the last number listed on the program, so the party the show ended in? Fun and electric. Rodgers/Tina sang two unlisted encore songs. Again, her performance was so incredibly incredible. I can’t put that more eloquently than that, I’m sorry.
Naomi Rodgers performing Proud Mary as ‘Tina Turner’ and the cast of the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is on now at the Broward Center until January 29th. Get your tickets here! River deep and mountain high, I might cry.
Zurin Villanueva as ‘Tina Turner’ and The TINA Band in the North American touring production of TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022
An Interview with Zurin Villanueva (Tina Turner)
Q: Tell me a little about yourself and how you became “Tina.”
A: I’ve been performing since I was small: dancing, acting, and singing. I went to LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and I went to Howard University for musical theater. I started working, upon graduation, mostly in musicals and some plays, and I got the call for this [Tina: The Tina Turner Musical] while I was shooting a movie in Paris, not really thinking I would get it because I look so different than Tina. I find we have so much in common, actually, that I didn’t even know before.
Q: How are you similar to Tina?
A: A lot of the things that Tina said in her book about how she felt about herself as a young child, I felt about myself: the long legs, being skinny, that is definitely something that I relate to because that’s all anyone would ever say about me when I was little. Not feeling sexy. All I wanted growing up was big hips and big legs. And that’s what she said, too! Also, our need for meditation. When I was younger and struggled with self-worth and self-confidence, I started meditating to control my anxiety, so I’ve been reading her book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good. She talks about meditation and how that helped transform her life to “What’s Love Got to Do With It” Tina. It’s been really inspiring for me, reading that part of her story, because I didn’t realize the work she had to do on the inside to get back on top.
Q: Did you find any significant challenges taking on the role?
A: Oh, yes. There are so many challenges. The first was mental focus. I realized in every show I’ve ever been in, I did not need to be on stage for this long. My brain and my body would be ready to take a break because that’s what we are used to. You know? But, no. We’re still here. We’re not leaving the stage, so mental focus. Keeping that focus for two and a half hours was a muscle I had to build. It really was a mindfulness exercise: keeping focus that entire time. And singing 21 songs, this is at least top 3 hardest musical theater roles on Broadway right now, period. With any role, your body has to get used to it, but this was like training for the New York City Marathon.
Q: What do you think the audience will be thinking on their drives home?
A: We get to party at the end, so I really hope they leave on a cloud of happiness. They got the good energy, and they’re bouncing out of the theater. That. That is the goal.