Direct from its US tour, TINA – The Tina Turner Musical brings to the stage the singer’s life – from her humble beginnings in Nutbush, USA, to her triumphant performance in front of 188,000 fans at the Maracanã Stadium in Brazil in 1988 – one of the largest concert crowds recorded in the 20th century. From its opening scene, where a solitary lynching tree sets the time and place and reminds us of the extreme bigotry and racial divisions that existed in Tina’s early years, to the show’s finale recreating that record-setting Rio de Janeiro show, you are transported.
Having grown up with the music of Tina Turner, I can remember dancing to Nutbush City Limits every week at primary school dance classes and later, at teenage discos. Turner was an iconic figure in seventies and eighties rock but I wasn’t aware of the journey she’d taken to becoming, at 56, the artist who’d sold more concert tickets than any other performer in musical history.
Born in rural Tennessee in 1939, Turner (then known as Anna Mae Bullock) was left in the care of her grandmother after each of her parents went their own way, leaving her behind. At 16, she moved to St Louis, where her singing voice caught the eye of local musician and band leader, Ike Turner. She joined his group, renamed the Ike and Tina Tuner Revue, and they enjoyed growing success, opening for The Rolling Stones in 1966.
But after enduring years of Ike’s frequent, sustained domestic abuse, Tina attempted to take her own life, ending up in hospital. Eight years later, in 1976, she managed to escape her marriage with just 36 cents to her name, and she subsequently spent years attempting to launch a solo career.
From 1983 onwards, she overcome the naysayers and her second act flourished. As she declares to her manager in this show: “I want to play rock ‘n’ roll! I want to put those blues behind me.” Hits such as Let’s Stay Together, Private Dancer, What’s Love Got To Do With It and We Don’t Need Another Hero followed one after the other.
She also found love, with German music executive, Erwin Bach and they’ve recently celebrated 37 years together.
Singer Ruva Ngwenya – who presciently played Tina Turner in her Year 10 high school musical – portrays the star with passion and exuberance: “I’m so excited for people to see a glimpse of what we’ve been working on. The whole point of creating this beautiful musical is to share it with Australia.”
Playing Ike is singer-songwriter and dancer Tim Omaji (also known as Timomatic), who is extremely watchable as initially the starmaker but ultimately becomes a menacing presence in Turner’s life for two tumultuous decades.
As a young ‘Anna Mae’, 10-year-old Amara Kavaliku has natural stage presence and star power, and will no doubt be headlining her own show in the not-too-distant future.
Simply the best? Unquestionably.
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical
Theatre Royal, Sydney
Until 22 October, 2023