Electrifying Houston run of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is simply the best showcase of an icon
The thing to know aboutTina: The Tina Turner Musical is that it is far less musical than it is a celebration.
Those going into the show — now playing at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts — who are looking for a deep biography of the Queen of Rock and Roll may well emerge knowing little more than when they arrived.
Part of that is that the book, written by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, tries too hard to cram too much of this remarkable woman's life into a two-and-a-half-hour show, which was always going to be an issue when the life in question is Tina Turner's six-decade singing career.
The other part is, simply, on so many levels, Tina Turner's music just speaks for itself. And what speaking it does!
Sing along through curtain call
This is a crowd-pleasing show, the kind where audiences know the words and cheer and dance during the curtain call (note: anyone tempted to leave during the curtain call should wait the extra time to get out of the Hobby Center garage with the rest of the crowd. You're welcome).
It moves through Turner's life at a brisk pace, from her troubled childhood in a home where her father abused her mother, who chided her for singing too much in church and embarrassing her; to her meeting with Ike Turner, the man who would change her name from Anna Mae Bullock to Tina Turner and put her on a path to stardom, marriage, and 16 years of physical abuse; to her fall into desperation as a "40-something, soul singer has-been," according to one record executive; and her climatic re-birth as an artist, reclaiming her name and her fame, and finding her voice.
Turner's story is so compelling it seems a written for the stage, and audiences will love every moment of her proud story. Backed with incredible performances, Tina brings all the hits across Turner's remarkable 60-year career. While some are crammed into scenes for effect, rather than chronology, the result is a soulful, rocking trip across music history.
Parris Lewis shines as Tina. From the teenager who meets bandleader Ike Turner to a woman at mid-life rising like a phoenix from the ashes, she bristles, she quakes, she survives — and does it all with killer vocal chops that blend Turner's signature raspy, soul-filled sound with an an essence all her own. She's no sound-alike artist; she's a true powerhouse. And when she lets loose, lifting her full vocal power to the rafters, watch out. It is something to see.
As Ike, Deon Releford-Lee is volcanic of temper, mean-spirited and a jealous foil to Tina. Clearly aware that her talent is eclipsing his, he takes his frustrations out on her, with cutting words and even more cutting blows. He brings a terrifying energy to the role, blending danger and charm around a voice perfectly suited for Ike and Tina's early days in soul and R&B.
Wydetta Carter brings in a terrific performance as Gran Georgeanna, Tina's grandmother, the first to believe in her talent, telling her she has the very gift she needs to make it in the world. She's a standout in Act Two's "Tonight," a powerful blend of past and present moments, which also showcases an incredible Brianna Cameron as Yong Anna Mae.
H-Town native GiGi Lewis — no relation to Parris — is sassy as Aline, Tina's sister, wielding comedic timing and a strong voice. (Editor's note: Read more about Lewis in Holly Beretto's terrific interview here.) She does double duty as an Ikette, the backup singers for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and it's clear she is a vocal force to reckon with. The ensemble is exceptional.
There's a lot happening in Tina. There are Buddhist chants and mentions of the ancestors. There are projections that manage to be everything from a rain-soaked highway to a glitzy concert stadium stage, some of which work much better than others. There is choreographer Anthony Van Laast's energetic choreography that raises the show's heartbeat.
And all of it melds together into this celebration of an artist that feels more like a concert with some scenes attached than a true musical. That is often the case with jukebox shows (see: Jersey Boys, MJ, etc.). With all the talent on stage, most people will be too busy having a great time to worry much about it.
Make no mistake: Tina is a very good jukebox musical. It has a protagonist to cheer for, who also happens to have been a multi-hyphenate megastar who broke barriers, shattered records, and waged a comeback that cemented her status in music history.
Tina Turner died last year. Her music will live forever. This musical ensures her story does, too.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical runs through Sunday, January 7 at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (800 Bagby St.). For tickets, showtimes, and more, visit the official show site.