‘TINA the Musical’ was best.
More than best, simply the best. In every possible way, ‘TINA the Musical’ manages to deliver; this is a world-class production that could outshine even the greatest of West End or Broadway renditions. This reviewer does not say such things lightly.
Having seen 1000s of shows over the past decade, there has rarely been a production with this level of quality filtering through every production element and every performance. It was beyond world-class, it was transcendent. At one point in the show, a character remarks, “It’s the second coming”, and by God, it may as well have been.
The production rests upon a solid foundation of hit music and a polished script. ‘TINA the Musical’ is an electrifying show that has garnered an impressive 37 award nominations including Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards and Best Musical at the Tony Awards. A biographical story and a jukebox musical like no other, Tina Turner – legend and icon – and her music were made for the stage. Her powerhouse vocal ability, heart-wrenching story, and unstoppable thirst for life combine as the perfect ingredients for a successful stage show.
‘TINA the Musical’ is truly brave and unforgiving in its portrayal of domestic violence. With well-executed and intentional stagecraft, both the real lived experience of violence in the home and the symbolism of the greater issue in society penetrate the story. Such intensity and darkness can only be overpowered by a great light, and in this, Tina shines. From a simple vocal talent to an international megastar, her ability to thrive, to reinvent herself, to harness her own power is admirable.
In the recent Whitney Houston movie musical, ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’, Houston becomes frustrated by a radio jockey and states, “I don’t know how to sing black-and I don’t know how to sing white, either. I know how to sing. Music is not a color to me.” This same sentiment is reflected in Tina’s words when in one scene of the show she turns to the audience and confirms, “Music doesn’t have a colour!” This parallel in sentiments of two music greats makes for a striking reflection of the power music has to transcend context and their ability (Turner and Houston) to embody that magic.
A turntable centre stage, bold concert-style lighting from the sides, a range of beautifully crafted digital backdrops, and an incredible recreation of rain using lights were just some of the many highlights from the technical dimension of the show. Projections by Jeff Suff, set design by Mark Thompson and lighting design by Bruno Poet, worked hand in hand to shift the story from live concert stage to rural Mississippi, from ol’ St Louis to recording studios near and abroad.
Costuming, also by Mark Thompson, alongside wig/hair design by Campbell Young Associates, were the absolute standout components of the show. The quality of the weaves, the execution in the quick changes, and the glitz and glamour of each outfit was phenomenal. This aesthetic component alone pushed the production value to a whole different level. The designs were perfect, the execution flawless and the audience were transported through time with them. Highlights included Tina’s signature hair during her reinvention, the classic bowl cut rocked by Ike, and the stunning tassel dresses that popped up throughout. Alline Bullock, beautifully played by Jayme-Lee Hanekom, was particularly stunning, adorned with stylish and timeless pieces every time she entered the stage.
Direction by Phillida Lloyd never felt stiff, utilising swift scene changes and clever masking to allow Tina to transform her wigs and attire on stage. Choreography by Anthony Van Laast was the perfect balance of fresh and upbeat sequences mashed with the signature moves of the iconic Tina Turner.
Music was truly celebrated in this show, with the conductor brought onto stage following bows, and the live band rolled downstage to roaring applause.
Hanekom (Alline Bullock) was a dominant force on the stage, with rounded expert vocals and a vibrant stage presence. Tim Omaji, as Ike Turner, was compelling in his embodiment of the public figure and was able to give him glimpses of light and shade amidst the primarily negative portrayal. Deni Gordon as Gran Georgeanna was endearing and her role in emphasising the timelessness of music was felt throughout.
In this particular performance, Ina Seidou made her Australian debut in ‘TINA the Musical’ as the titular character. There are few words to describe perfection; Seidou was awe-inspiring, captivating, dynamic and masterful. She did not just embody Tina, she lifted her. Seidou’s powerful vocal ability was showcased as she stretched her range and skillfully moulded her voice to various genres. She danced effortlessly and created chemistry with such authenticity the audience had to rely on the extended bows to return back to reality. Seidou’s acting choices and genuine warmth radiated the stage, giving Tina both humanity and legend status.
With an Australian music producer behind her reinvention and songs that permeates Australian culture, it is no wonder ‘TINA the Musical’ is having great success here. From birthdays to weddings, and Friday afternoon HPE lessons, her ‘Nutbush City Limits’ has been the backing track to many of the most significant life moments for Australians – for generations now. Her impact on the culture and people of Australia is celebrated in this piece with subtle nods to the country, a little love letter.
With the breaking news of Tina’s passing this morning, we remember and celebrate her impact on music, her extraordinary talents and our admiration for the icon. She asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” And today, our hearts are breaking just a little.
‘TINA the Musical’ performs until October 22, 2023 at Theatre Royal, Sydney. For more information visit the official website.