By Lee Hubbard
“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” brings the life of the soulful rock star to vibrant life onstage at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco.
The three-week run was well received, unfolding the story of Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock n’ Roll, who started out as a talented child whose given name was Anna Mae Bullock.
Her life story was made into a successful movie starring Angela Bassett as Turner in 1993, where it was met with worldwide acclaim and newfound stardom for Bassett and a refocus on Turner’s career.
The Broadway musical about the late Tina Turner was developed in 2016, previewed in England in 2018, brought to Broadway in New York from 2019 to 2022, and is now touring nationally, ending its San Francisco run on Aug. 27. It will run from Aug. 29- Sept. 3, in San Jose at the San Jose Center.
The two-hour and 45-minute production opens with Turner, born in Nutbush, Tenn., with a young Anna Mae Bullock, portrayed by Ayvah Johnson, singing in a church. Johnson has a strong and very mature voice and gets the crowd excited in the scene opening, prompting her mother, Zelma (Roz White), to tell her to tone it down.
Abused by her husband, Zelma takes her daughter, Alline (Paris Lewis), to St. Louis and leaves Bullock to be raised by her father and grandmother, Gran Georgeanna (Ann Nesby).
The now-grown Bullock, played by Naomi Rodgers, moves to St. Louis to reconnect with her mother and sister. There is a slight resentment from her mother, but Tina’s sister bonds with her, and the two are happy. Alline wants to get her out of the house and away from doing daily chores.
Out one night, the two sisters go to a nightclub where they meet Ike Turner (Roderick Lawrence) and his band, the Kings of Rhythm. Anna Mae jumps on stage and mesmerizes the crowd; the rest is history. Ike sees a star and goes to Zelma to ask permission to have Anna Mae join his band.
Bullock joins and becomes the female lead. Ike then renames her Tina Turner, and the two have a rocky friendship, relationship, marriage, and music career that spanned the 1960s and most of the 1970s. She garnered several No. 1 hits with Ike Turner and then as a soloist with Grammy-winning producer Phil Spector.
After divorcing Ike, Turner is at a low point, but her career gets a second wind in the 1980s after she meets a young producer, and she goes to Europe to record. An emancipated Tina Turner recorded the hits “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Private Dancer,” and “The Best,” making her a household name in her own right.
As Tina, Rodgers has a commanding stage presence, and she is a star. Full of energy, she is relentless on the stage. She meshes well with Roderick Lawrence, who, as Ike Turner, is also a compelling figure.
“Ike was a complex and broken man,” said Lawrence in an interview. “He went through a lot of trauma as a young man. He was a man who started Rock n’ Roll and never got the credit for it.”
He also had an eye for talent. At one time, Turner had Jimmy Hendrix in his band, but he kicked him out for using drugs. It would be his own drug use that would turn Ike Turner into a batterer and abuser in his personal relationships.
Once he got the role as Ike Turner, Lawrence wanted to make sure he didn’t go back and watch “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
“He had everyone taken from him and a lot of things taken from him,” continued Lawrence.
As a result, Ike was always on edge, leading to his drug usage and worsening things in his musical and personal life. Ultimately, at the end of Zelma’s life, in real life and in the play, Ike asks Tina for forgiveness.
“I was able to sit down and talk to his family members, who saw the play,” said Lawrence. “He was like an August Wilson character, a very complex man, and I wanted to make sure I really made him more well-rounded.”
Lawrence said he is pleased with his portrayal of Ike and the reception of the play in San Francisco and across the country, where it will be running through the spring of 2024.
“The reception to the play has been great,” continued Lawrence. “It has been phenomenal.”
“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” is playing at the Golden Gate Theater at 1 Taylor Street in San Francisco through August 27 and from Aug. 29-Sept. 3 in San Jose at the San Jose Center. For more information on the play,