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Review: Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at QPAC

Review by Yasmin Elahi


The hugely successful ‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’ opened at QPAC last week. After opening on the West End in 2018, the Australian tour of the production has finally made its way to Brisbane.


Based on the life of legendary singer Tina Turner, this musical follows her rise to fame from her small town roots in Nutbush, through her turbulent marriage with Ike Turner and eventual rise to stardom. 


The book of the musical, written by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins imbues the narrative with heart, drama and grit and does not shy away from some of the more hard-hitting times in Tina’s life. The weaving of the narrative with Tina’s hit songs is well-handled and the songs never feel out of place or contrived, which is the risk in some juke-box musicals.

Director Phyllida Lloyd’s vision for this show does not shy away from grand spectacle and heightened reality. The scene changes and elaborate set pieces roll on and off, making for smooth transitions. There are seldom blackouts which ensures the action on stage advanced at a healthy pace. However, the small downside of this is the visible wig and costume changes on stage. Seeing the actress performing Tina pulling off her wig to reveal a bald cap and having ensemble members pin in her wig during scenes is perhaps a directorial choice that did not land and took away from some of the magic. Overall, her direction was inspired, unique and creative and captivating to watch. Staging of numbers such as ‘Private Dancer’ and one memorable moment when Turner is running through traffic were truly visionary.


Set design by Mark Thompson was clever. The use of revolves to great effect was a highlight of the staging. At times, doors and walls rolling on from the wings felt a little like a baggage conveyor belt. When the set pieces were in situ however, they very effectively conveyed the location of the scenes – whether it be hotel rooms, backstage, hospital rooms or recording studios. Thompson also designed the costumes which were in keeping with the period of the piece and faithful to Turner’s costumes from her iconic performances. 


Choreography by Anthony Van Laast was memorable, recognisable and possessed all the hallmarks of Turner’s infamous and quirky dance moves, performed with vigour by the cast. Fight direction by Nigel Poulton was perhaps the weakest element of the show. It was puzzling – there was a lot of domestic violence scenes within the show and for the most part the physicality did not seem realistic, yet not stylised enough to be a creative choice. At times, slaps were far from convincing. Actors could be seen to obviously be slapping or hitting their own arms to elicit the sounds and positioning of cast members made the violence look altogether unconvincing.


The touring band, directed by Christina Polimos, was fantastic. Their sound was akin to that of Turner’s original recordings and Polimos, who was also the musical director, balanced the classic sound of the songs with the modern energy of the show. The music was faultless and each member of the band performed cohesively.


Ruva Ngwenya was an absolute standout at Tina Turner. Vocally, she sounded so like Tina Turner herself in an authentic way. It was evident Ngwenya had a natural timbre like Turner’s as there was no artificial or impersonated sound, just honest, powerful and rich vocals that left the audience in wonderment. Her acting started fairly reserved but as the story progressed, Ngwenya came into her own, performing some of the most heart-wrenching and desperate scenes with sincerity and fearless, raw emotion. A flawless, powerful and magnetic performance from Ngwenya that could be watched over and over again.


At this particular performance, the role of Ike Turner was played by Giovanni Adams. Serving perhaps as the villain of the piece, Adams gave a balanced performance which allowed audiences to see his perspective and partially empathise for him, though his actions were inexcusable. Vocally, Adams’ voice was soulful and his interactions with Ngwenya were believable and emotionally charged.


Deni Gordon played Gran Georgeanna with heart, acting as the catalyst for Turner to pursue music. She reoccurs throughout the play at some of Turner’s most desperate times.

The remainder of ensemble were equally professional and energetic performers, contributing to a cohesive and very strong cast. Overall, ‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’ was a fantastic show.


With elaborate costumes and wigs, dynamic musical and inspired staging, this show effectively guides audiences through Turner’s life. But the real standout of this show was Ruva Ngwenya. Her performance was faultless; so reminiscent of Tina Turner but outstanding in her own right and incredibly memorable. If nothing else, this show would be worth seeing for Ngwenya. However, when complemented by a strong ensemble, musicians and creative team this show could easily be the number one show in Brisbane for 2024. An outstanding night at the theatre.


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