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TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL at Fox Theater Review

The legendary Tina Turner has been called “Queen of Rock’n’Roll” but the late music icon got her start right here in St. Louis. This is one of the biographical tidbits included in the hit Broadway musical “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.” Packed with famous Tina Turner hits, “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” also covers the star singer’s difficult early life and marriage to Ike Turner and her triumphant later life. “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” opened Nov. 14 at the Fox Theater for a run through Nov. 26

Opening night seemed as much a celebration of Tina Turner as the musical, highlighting Tina Turner’s St. Louis connections. The musical launched its national tour in St. Louis, which seemed very appropriate. Opening night included an Mayor’s award and a declaration of “Tina Turner Day” on … Later in the week, the cast visited the high school where the singer attended under her real name, Anna Mae Bullock.

So how about that show? “Tina” is a sure crowd-pleaser of a musical, filled with all Tina Turner’s hits and more, and with a story covering most of the singer’s life from her difficult early childhood in Tennessee to her rise to stardom with Ike Turner, to her resurgence in her solo career. Born Anna Mae Bullock, she was raised by her beloved grandmother, Gran Georganna (Wydetta Carter) after her mother Zelma (Roz White) left her father (Kristopher Stanley Ward) with Anna Mae’s sister Alline (Natalia Nappo), and her father then left Anna Mae with her grandmother.

At church, young Anna Mae discovered her singing talent and a love of performing talent early, and on opening night, young Brianna Cameron thrilled the audience with her own impressive singing voice and big stage presence.

At 16-years-old, Anna Mae (Parris Lewis) was sent by her grandmother to St. Louis, to live with the teen’s mother and sister Alline (Gigi Lewis). Still in high school, her sister took her to a local club where the young Anna Mae jumped on stage to sing along with Ike Turner’s (Deon Releford-Lee) R&B band. Her lively performance and big voice wowed the audience and, knowing a good thing when he saw it, Ike Turner immediately hired the teen, eventually charming her mother into letting the girl tour with the band.

Brianna Cameron as ‘Young Anna Mae’ and the North American touring company of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical. photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2023

Without asking her, Ike Turner started billing the high-energy young performer as Tina Turner on recordings and in performances, and he eventually married the budding star. Anna Mae Bullock didn’t care for the stage name but she used it professionally her whole career. In the latter hale of Act 1, the musical details their abusive relationship amid their professional success, and her split from Ike ends Act I. Act II follows her struggles, personal and professional, after the split, and then her triumphant resurgence in her solo career.

The musical packs in a lot, both in terms of biography and the number of hit songs, making it an exhausting show to perform nightly. The touring show has alternating stars in the role of Tina Turner, both as an adult and as a child.

On opening night, the role of the adult Tina was played by Parris Lewis, who delivers on both the powerhouse singing performance and on the dramatic portions. Brianna Cameron played the young Anna Mae, displaying a remarkable voice that wowed the audience and nearly stole the show in “Nutbush City Limits.”

The hit songs are plentiful, appearing as part of the story or done as performance numbers. “Shake A Tailfeather” is sung by Anna Mae and Alline as they head for the club where Ike Turner is performing. Other hit songs are integrated well into the musical, often as performance numbers with the signature Tina Turner choreography. Hits in the show include “A Fool in Love,” “Let’s Stay Together,” and “I Want to Take You Higher.” Tina’s crossover hit “River Deep – Mountain High,” recorded with legendary producer Phil Spector, is presented as a recording studio performance, a pivotal moment where Tina starts to realize recognition of her talent apart from Ike. The hit that catapulted Ike and Tina Turner to next-level fame, “Proud Mary,” gets the big stage treatment it deserves, the penultimate song and showstopper to close out the first act.

Act II opens with Tina after she broken away from Ike, fighting in court to use her stage name, and trying to revive her career now as a solo act. Among the hits in the second half are riveting production number for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” The show comes to a rousing end with “(Simply) The Best,” staged as another showstopper, in the most glittering number of the musical.

On opening night, the cast followed up their standing ovation with a couple more songs as an encore, which as then followed by the presentation of a plaque from the mayor of St. Louis, making for a very full and magical night.

“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox Theater through Nov. 26.

© Cate Marquis

Parris Lewis performing The Best as ‘Tina Turner’ in the North American touring production of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2023.