Review of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

The opening night audience at Eccles Theater was restive but eager on May 30th. It had been less than a week since Tina Turner’s death (May 24, 2023), and we awaited a reprise of her life in tonight’s sold-out performance of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

The lights went up, the show began. Tina sat center stage, her back to the audience as the ensemble cast emerged from the wings to signal the start of a journey of one of music’s most memorable stars.

Appearing first onstage as a pesky child (played by the astonishing Ayvah Johnson), little Anna Mae Bullock’s spirited defiance could not be contained within the confines of Nutbush, Tennessee nor of her violence-ridden home. Wearily, her mother Zelma (an affecting Roz White) and Anna Mae’s sister Aline (Parris Lewis) fled, leaving Anna Mae finally in the care of her sympathetic Gran (played by Carla R. Stewart).

Pulitzer-winning playwright Katori Hall, along with writers Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, helmed the book. Act one laid the foundation for Anna Mae’s emergence as a talent when, once discovered by Ike Turner, found moderate success in the music they generated as partners in the Ike Turner Revue.

Photography by Matthew Murphy.

But a smooth path to stardom was not assured, as Ike’s penchant for power surged through his fists, and his ever-tightening control descended into a reign of violent rage and sexual betrayal.

As Ike’s violence grew, Tina Turner’s love grew. Her love for Raymond (played by Gerard M. Williams) the group’s saxophonist. In the show’s standout duet, Tina and Raymond seamlessly meld the haunting refrains of “Let’s Stay Together,” in pulsating falsettos of love and despair. When Ike discovered their affair, Raymond was driven out, leaving Tina pregnant with their child.

Not even marriage to Tina tamed the rapacious Ike, made even starker when Phil Spector who records with them is besotted by Tina’s rendition of “River Deep – Mountain High.” Tina’s surge toward freedom is palpable. In a formidable act of sisterhood, one of Ike’s blond conquests, Rhonda (played by Lael Van Keuren), befriends Tina, finally becoming her erstwhile manager throughout Tina’s journey.

After a siege of bloody beatings and a suicide attempt, Tina Turner fights back and runs off, ending Act One in a hotel, with no money, singing “I Don’t Wanna Fight No More.” Act Two brought a tectonic shift in tone and temper in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

Photography by Matthew Murphy.

It was here, it was now, that the stage exploded with Tina’s transcendence into a vaunted solo artist. Bruno Poet’s lighting design and Mark Thompson’s set design, emblazoned in graphic undulating projections, heightened the play’s temperature. And Nicholas Skilbeck’s music direction found its exhilarating tone in what was Tina Turner’s unforgettable oeuvre.

But it was the standout, electrifying performance of Naomi Rodgers as Tina Turner that left the audience breathless. She was the Tina Turner we’d been waiting to see.  Tina’s journey as a solo artist began with a new manager, Australian Roger Davies (played by Zachary Freier-Harrison), and a trip to London to explore new music spurred by the advent of computer-aided Rock ’n Roll. Here she meets German marketing executive Erwin Bach, the man she will later marry (and live with the remainder of her life in a small Swiss town outside Zurich).

Confounded by the new wave of computerized music, Tina returned to New York, where she begins her transformation into a mini-skirted, leather-clad blonde diva. Still, Capitol Records executives reject her for being too old and too black for the label. After all, they already had Diana Ross. But Capitol’s executives were brought to heel when David Bowie dragged them to New York’s rock club, the Ritz, to see her perform her first solo hit,  “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Capitol immediately offered Tina Turner a new recording contract.

The climax of Rodger’s performance as Tina was yet to come. Her unbounded exuberance, the shaking, shimmying, fist-pumping energy!  It was her show and she carried it, literally channeling Tina Turner and celebrating her in the transcendent spirit of the star. Tina climbed the lighted stairway, toward thousands of starlights, an ode to her historic Brazilian concert attended by more than 180,000 fans. She descended the staircase, electrifying the audience as they jumped to their feet, and for an exhilarating ten minutes joined the finale, clapping in unison to the beat of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary.” Tina Turner was alive, and the earth moved under our feet.


WHEN: May 30 – June 4, 2023

WHERE: George S. And Dolores Dore Eccles Theater

HOW TO GO: Tickets and more info are available at

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Linda Hunt
Linda Hunt
Linda Hunt, an artist and arts activist, is the former Executive Director of the Foothill Cultural District, a consortium of Salt Lake City’s arts and culture organizations, including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the Natural History Museum of Utah and Hogle Zoo, among others. Prior to returning to her roots in Utah, she was the Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California where, according to her FBI file, she entered the pantheon of trouble-makers. Hunt is currently completing research for her forthcoming book, “Rappers Under the Gun: The U. S. Government’s War on Hip Hop.”

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