Photo depicting Naomi Rodgers in costume as Tina Turner in TINA -- The Tina Turner Musical.

‘TINA – The Tina Turner Musical’ Blasts Onto the Paramount Stage

by Jas Keimig

In this land of rivers deep and mountains high, someone who’s simply the best has come to town.

Rolling through Paramount Theatre this month is TINA The Tina Turner Musical, which tells the story of the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll. The 12-time Tony-nominated jukebox musical written by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins debuted in April 2018 in London’s West End, and now Seattleites can see it for themselves at the Paramount Theatre until Sept.17.

TINA examines the music icon’s entire life — from her humble beginnings in Tennessee to her appearance in front of an 188,000-person crowd in Brazil — depicting how she rose up and reinvented herself in an industry stacked against her. It’s a thrilling and moving tribute to an icon who’s acted as a beacon of joy for generations across the globe.

But before we meet her as Tina, we’re first introduced to Anna Mae Bullock from Nutbush, Tennessee. As a young girl (played by the wondrous Symphony King), Anna Mae clearly has a gift for singing and dancing, and she breaks a rendition of “Nutbush City Limits” all the way down in her father’s church pews. Not everyone is appreciative, though. “Anna Mae, you’ve always been too loud,” her mother, Zelma (Roz White), tuts before abandoning her daughter (and abusive marriage) to head to St. Louis.

As a teen, Anna Mae (now played by Ari Groover) joins her mother and sister in St. Louis following the death of her grandmother, who raised her. It’s only after Anna Mae wows the predatory, gravelly-voiced Ike Turner (Roderick Lawrence) with “Shake a Tail Feather” one night that she is rechristened Tina Turner to fit his purposes. Her violent relationship with Ike during their time as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue makes up most of the first act, while her middle-aged comeback forms most of the second act in this two-and-a-half-hour show.

Photo depicting Garrett Turner performing as Ike Turner.
Tina’s abusive husband Ike Turner played by Garrett Turner in “TINA — The Tina Turner Musical. ” (Photo: Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Seattle Theatre Group)

Throughout, hits from the span of Turner’s career are woven together to tell the story of her life. When Ike unromantically suggests they get hitched, Tina sings “Better Be Good to Me” (nevermind that the song came out in 1984, more than 20 years after the duo got married). After dramatically escaping Ike’s abusive clutches, Tina mournfully croons “Private Dancer” as she reckons with her financial ruin. She belts out “I Can’t Stand the Rain” when manager Roger Davies (Zachary Freier-Harrison) brings her to London to cut a new record following years of languishing in obscurity.

While the non-chronological presentation of her songs can be a little disorienting, it provides a thematic throughline of Turner’s life. She took the hardships with the highs, embodying the roles of girl, mother, singer, performer, wife, ex-wife, rockstar — and through it all, she’s always been (and bet on) herself. Rather than depicting her as a victim of circumstance, TINA shows Turner as her own center of gravity, making the rousing final performance of “(Simply) The Best” feel like it has earned its emotional climax.

Photo depicting Naomi Rodgers performing as Tina Turner in the eponymous musical.
Some of the show costumes were made by Mark Thompson, who made some of Turner’s most iconic fringe dresses and denim jackets. Here, Naomi Rodgers performs ‘What’s Love Got to do With it,’ as Tina Turner. (Photo: Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Seattle Theatre Group)

That’s not to say TINA is a particularly easy watch. The musical doesn’t shy away from depicting the physical, emotional, and financial abuse Ike inflicted upon her. Lawrence plays Turner’s ex-husband with such a greasy sleaze and a fragile, reactive bravado that when Tina calls him “the devil himself,” it’s believable.

But the beating heart of the show is Groover, who brings a tenacious depth to Tina Turner. The pacing often forces Groover to go through a quick array of emotions — heartbroken, weary, vivacious, resolute, tired — and she’s adept at capturing them all. Her voice and movements do not so much mimic Turner’s iconic gritty, guttural voice and ecstatic moves, but evoke the legendary singer and make them her own. Groover’s transformation is aided by the excellent costuming by Mark Thompson, who re-created Turner’s high-cut, sequin dresses as well as the denim-jacket-and-leather-dress getup that became one of her signature outfits.

TINA feels ever more important since Turner died earlier this year. The legend had a chance to see the original run of the show herself with Adrienne Warren in the titular role (she won a Tony) and gave her blessing. In July, co-writer Hall told The Associated Press that the show “always wanted to put audiences in the room with her and it’s obviously going to have even more of a special meaning now that she is gone from us physically.” In name, this production is a musical; however, it feels more like a rock concert. And what better way to honor the legend who shaped rock ’n’ roll?

Jas Keimig is a writer and critic based in Seattle. They previously worked on staff at The Stranger, covering visual art, film, music, and stickers. Their work has also appeared in Crosscut, South Seattle Emerald, i-D, Netflix, and The Ticket. They also co-write Unstreamable for Scarecrow Video, a column and screening series highlighting films you can’t find on streaming services. They won a game show once.

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