Naomi Rodgers as Tina Turner. Photo courtesy of MurphyMade
I was never fortunate enough to have seen Tina Turner perform in person. For those like me, “Tina -- The Tina Turner Musical” has to come close. A bubbling cauldron of passion and stamina, Naomi Rodgers, star of the national touring production of this Broadway show, channels the late, great Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for two and a half crowd-pleasing hours.
Broadway San Diego is presenting this tour, which comes to town only two months after Turner’s passing at age 83. It’s a visceral biographical musical written by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins and a worthy companion to the 1993 film “What’s Love Got To Do With It” that starred Angela Bassett.
Of course there are the second act songs – “What’s Love …”, “Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “(Simply) The Best” – that defined Turner’s emotional comeback and solo career success, and Rodgers’ performance of them, backed by a rocking band that encores with a blistering two-song concert.
In large part because of the ’93 film, Turner’s history is well known: her early life in Tennessee as Anna Mae Bullock, her singing in a Baptist church, her separation from her parents; meeting Ike Turner and becoming the star of his act (which both pleased and infuriated him); suffering 16 years of physical and emotional abuse in her marriage to him; going from indebtedness and despair to a resurrected career on her own that would establish her as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
It’s all there in this show, and it’s a story that takes a long while to tell. Subplots stretch it out, especially in the first act, such as Tina’s romance with a member of Ike’s band (Gerard M. Williams) and her estrangement from her mother (Roz White). No sensitivities are spared (nor should they be) in depicting the physical abuse Ike (Roderick Lawrence) inflicts on Tina. It’s less graphic than in the movie, but no less shocking, even though we know it’s coming.
The highlight of Act One is the re-creation of Tina’s performance with the Ikettes of “Proud Mary.” It’s clear that Rodgers studied that famous footage. She’s got every movement, inflection and mannerism down pat.
While Act Two includes a couple of broad turns – Geoffrey Kidwell as Phil Spector and Zachary Freier-Harrison as Aussie manager Roger Davies – music for the most part transcends the melodrama. Rodgers is simply the best in the second half of the show when she can just let loose as The Legend.
“Tina” is a more thoughtfully constructed musical than perhaps it gets credit for. The theatrical integration of Turner’s past with the unfolding story, periodically returning to the stage the figures from her childhood, enhance the thrust of the storytelling. The interruption of the “Proud Mary” performance with Ike’s outbursts accentuates the control he sought to wield over her. The deathbed scene in Act Two with her mother, in which Zelma insists that Tina owes Ike gratitude for making her what she became, avoids cliché.
Make no mistake, however: “Tina” is such an entertaining show because of Naomi Rodgers’ dedication to the role and her prodigious talent (and energy!). Tina Turner’s are not easy high-heeled shoes to step into.
Lawrence is asked to swagger and rage as Ike, and face it: His despicable character is not going to be a crowd favorite. It’s always awkward when the hard-working actor comes out at the curtain call to be acknowledged and some in the audience boo because of who he, she or they is portraying.
A shout-out to White for a genuine performance as Tina’s mother, to Williams for his silken vocal sweetness on “Let’s Stay Together” and to young Ayvah Johnson, a charmer and dazzler as childhood Tina.
When this musical opened on Broadway four years ago, Tina Turner joined the cast onstage afterward and told the audience “I’ve never been as happy as I am now.”
That’s the best review any tribute show can get.
“Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” runs through July 30 at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
The fanciful world of "Bottle Shock! The Musical." Photo courtesy of CCAE Theatricals
Let me begin with a promise: I will attempt NO wine/alcohol/drinking puns in this discussion of “Bottle Shock! The Musical.”
Glad I got that out of the way.
Now. Just two years into its existence, CCAE Theatricals in Escondido has demonstrated its artfulness for staging musicals both urgent (last year’s world-premiere “Witnesses”) and opulent (its production of “Sunday in the Park with George” earlier this year).
Another CCAE-produced world premiere, “Bottle Shock! The Musical,” is winding up the company’s 2022-23 season. It’s an adaptation by Charles Vincent Burwell (music and lyrics) and James D. Sasser (books, lyrics, additional music) of the popular cult film “Bottle Shock” from 2008, a somewhat apocryphal telling of the “Judgement of Paris” of 1976. That blind-tasting event is considered a tipping point in the world of wine, when two California vineyards won top honors over the until-then-unsurpassable French.
The film is quirky and a little corny, but I liked it a lot. Two performances stood out: Bill Pullman as hard-nosed Jim Barrett, owner of Napa’s Chateau Montelena winery, and Alan Rickman as haughty British wine expert Steven Spurrier. The Napa and Sonoma shooting locations provide escapism and spectacular local color.
No theatrical production can approximate that scenery, of course, but credit Jo Winiarski and her team at CCAE Theatricals for some gorgeous backdrops that honor these NorCal wine regions and give “Bottle Shock! The Musical” mood and atmosphere when called for.
From a narrative standpoint, Burwell and Sasser’s musical directed by J. Scott Lapp runs very much along the lines of the film that preceded it, which was written by Randall Miller (who also directed), Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz. Chateau Montelena’s Barrett (T.J. Mannix) operates his winery with an iron hand, a strategy that only distances and disengages his directionless son Bo (Will Riddle), who just likes to have a good time. Also in the elder Barrett’s employ but more fiery and fully committed to wine making is young Gustavo Brambilla (Patrick Ortiz). Both Bo and Gustavo have their heads predictably turned by the arrival of an intern from UC Davis, Sam Fulton (Emma Degerstedt), there to learn the business but hardly dressed the part.
Barrett and company are visited by the veddy British Spurrier (Louis Pardo), established at the outset of the story as a supreme know-it-all when it comes to wine. He’s curious about what’s being bottled in California and entertaining the thought of bringing something back to his Paris base to compete in the July “Judgement” tasting. Pardo is every bit as snooty and exasperated and comical as Rickman was in the “Bottle Shock” film. It’s a rich character performance, making an unlikable figure highly likable, that rises above all others in this CCAE Theatricals production.
Anyway, Jim Barrett is not receptive to Spurrier’s overtures, suspecting that the visitor’s motive is to try to embarrass his winery (and possibly all California wineries) at the Paris wine-tasting.
As with the film, the “Bottle Shock” musical version’s story has a built-in challenge when it comes to stakes. Audiences today, like movie watchers then, already know how things turned out: The Americans pulled off an upset in Paris and California wines achieved overdue respect. That leaves for digestion the personal complications of the tale: Will Bo, likewise, win respect from his father and find a way forward in life? Who will Sam choose – Gustavo or Bo? Can Sam reconcile herself with the personal losses of her past? Will Gustavo set out on his own or remain with Jim?
Resultantly, many of the musical’s original songs address these questions: Bo’s anguished “Dyin’ On The Vine”; Sam’s wistful “Summer in a Bottle”; Sam’s “You-can-do-it, Bo!” ballad “The Journey of You”; Gustavo’s passionate “In the Blood,” the exciting Act One closer with choreography by Toranika Washington.
While beautifully sung, Degerstedt’s numbers are 11 out of 10 on the sincerity scale. Either would qualify for “Spamalot’s” deprecating “The Song That Goes Like This.”
Say this for composers Burwell and Sasser: While few of their songs are instantly memorable, they’re altogether more welcome than the film soundtrack’s employment of “China Grove” or “Drivin’ Wheel,” reflective though they may have been of the 1970s.
Musically and otherwise, this “Bottle Shock” rocks when it’s simply having fun rather than striving for sincerity. A lot of this goes on at Jo’s Bar, operated by – who else? – Jo (a delightful Taylor Renee Henderson). There, the gang indulges in a tasting (and drinking) competition (“The Contest”); Jo teaches an overworked Sam the restorative power of suds (“It Takes a lot of Beer To Make Good Wine”); and Bo and Gus confront their troubles not with angst but philosophically (“The Bad with the Good”).
Moreover, the scenes with Pardo are the most entertaining of all: the airport wine-bottle gambit (if you know the film, you’ll remember how Spurrier, thanks to Bo, manages to transport his case of wine bottles in spite of rules about how many a passenger can carry); and the climactic “Judgement of Paris” sequence, overseen by Spurrier and co-starring four snooty tasters.
Next to Pardo, Ortiz is the production’s most engaging character, whether singing or dancing. Ironically, the real-life Gustavo Brambilla, NapaValley.com explains, didn’t join Chateau Montelena until AFTER the “Judgement in Paris” had gone down.
This is CCAE Theatricals’ second original musical (after “Witnesses”). It’s a lush and likable production, tamer than the “Bottle Shock” film and a little more earnest. The emotional catharses are familiar. Some of the name-dropped wine vintages are not.
So yes, there’s an educational component should you happen to be an aspiring oenophile.
“Bottle Shock! The Musical” runs through July 23 at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.