It's no secret that Tina Turner's life was an easy road traveled. And on the heels of the world learning her second son Ronnie died of cancer, the struggle of sorts continues. Just a few years ago, she lost her eldest son Craig. He died by suicide. Turner would later reveal that she believed Craig was lonely and couldn't stand the feeling anymore. But it was her testimony about her own dark times and never giving up despite them that stuck, despite the tragedy. And witnessing Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on its Philadelphia stop amid the sold-out U.S. tour only proves Turner's immeasurable strength beyond a reasonable doubt. While the Angela Bassett-led autobiographical film What's Love Got to Do With It details Turner's life of ongoing abuse and later escape from her ex-husband Ike, the musical gives a fuller picture of Turner before and after.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee in the late '30s, her surroundings left little to the imagination beyond country fields. She bore the burden of a mother who didn't want her due to her striking resemblance to her abusive father. At a young age, her mother abandoned her in search of a better life elsewhere, taking her sister Ruby "Alline" Bullock, along with her. Little Anna Mae would end up with her religious paternal grandparents, who raised her strictly from the Good Book. She worked as a domestic, but her grandmother died when she was 16, leaving her to move to St. Louis with her mother. But she kept close to her the teachings of her beloved grandmother, who told her early on that she had a musical gift. It was in St. Louis that her voice would be the foundation of greater heights.
She met Ike while out on the town with her older sister. The Rock N' Roll legend passed the microphone around the crowd, and he was astonished by the power that came out of skinny Anna Mae. He paid her mother $100 to allow her to go on the road with him.
Unlike in the movie, the play echoes what she has said in interviews for decades: she never viewed Ike as a romantic figure. A known womanizer, Ike was more of a mentor to Anna Mae. But he wanted more. And she felt indebted to him for showing her a better life. In fact, Anna Mae was in love with a member of the band, Raymond Hill, and became pregnant with his child. But under Ike's musical spell, she agreed to marry Ike. He changed her name to Tina, and the abuse began.
The story is well known, and the musical doesn't miss a beat. With Ike & Tina classics as a backdrop, 16 years of non-stop recording and touring, with verbal and physical lashings from Ike in between, and his philandering ways mixed with his drug use culminates into an attempted suicide before Tina begins to find her inner strength. It also shows that Ike wasn't the leader he thought he was, as Tina was responsible for the stage costumes, choreography, and overall production. But convincing Ike otherwise would just cause another fight.
When her friend introduces her to chanting, a practice of Buddhism, she's able to center herself and fight back…literally. She flees, and over the next five years, she works the Vegas strip for nickles and dimes until she has to work overtime to prove to Capitol Records that she's worth a shot in her 40s. Never one to back down from a challenge, she does just that. And the Queen of Rock N' Roll is born.
The star of the show is Naomi Rodgers. For the first time ever in the musical's run, because of the massive physical undertaking it takes to play Tina and tell her story, two leads take the stage as Tina. "The 'Tina' character is on stage 2 hours and 40 minutes out of the entire 2 hour and 45-minute show, and performs 21 songs. Rodgers performed at the show I attended, and she was pure magic. She plays four shows a week, while Zurin Villanueva does the other four. Rodgers can move, and fast.
Rodgers told The Philadelphia Metro: "To be able to be in power, and give Tina justice 100%, it is smart of the production to give us our breaks, to recharge throughout the schedule. The rest is needed for the heart and the mind." And she must rest in between as she doesn't get out of breath, proving she's studied the icon. Her vocals and dance moves never go out of sync. She emotes every word in the script with conviction. Rodgers is believable as Tina.0comments
The music is non-stop. Everything from "River Deep, Mountain High," to "Nutbush City Limits," to "Proud Mary," to "Private Dancer," to "Simply the Best" keeps the audience dancing in their seats. One of the most memorable moments of the show is when Rodgers as Tina records "River Deep, Mountain High" in the studio alongside producer Phil Spector coaching her. Tina is used to singing rough, but Spector teaches her to take her time and sing along with the melody. It showcases Rodgers' own vocal versatility.
Playing the part is an honor for Rodgers. And Tina is equally appreciative. She told The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Naomi and Zurin are joining a very unique group of women who step into my shoes. That's very special to me."