TINA-The-Musical-Ruva-Ngwenya-photo-by-Daniel-BoudThere are many reasons not to miss this musical even if you haven’t’ been paying attention to the career of Tina Turner.

Firstly, there are the songs. In a career which spans more than 60 years, Tina Turner became one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, selling over 100 million records worldwide, winning 12 Grammy Awards along the way.  But how Tina Turner, accomplished this is not the main focus of this musical, nor is the show simply a concert of her hit songs.

Instead, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical turns out to be a deeply affecting revelation of the path carved out by  Anna Mae Bullock, who married musician Ike Turner and became world famous as Tina Turner, and what she endured in her determination to become a world famous singer. Of course, all the best songs are there, but how they are woven through the story is just one of the fascinations.

Then there’s the astonishing performance of Ruva Ngwenya. This is a career defining role for Ngwenya; in much the same way as the role of Peter Allen defined the career of Todd McKenney.

Ngwenya is a powerhouse performer – a formidable singer, dancer and actor, she captures the very essence of Tina Turner so skilfully that one soon becomes bewitched into believing Tina Turner is in the room.

No newcomer though, Ngwenya has been honing her craft since making her theatrical debut in The Lion King in 2013. And though she’s performed supporting roles in major musicals such as We Will Rock You, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and most recently, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, it seems as though she’s just been marking time until this role came along, and when it did, she is so ready for it.

She captures perfectly Turners guttural growls and stratospheric high notes, while performing a succession of demanding dance routines, lightning-quick costume changes, even enduring confronting domestic abuse episodes, then after a dazzling finale, creates an indelible memory by pulling out even more stops in a series of thrilling encores, giving the distinct impression she could do the whole show again, no trouble. It’s a performance you won’t forget.

But there’s more. Almost as impressive is former Canberran, Tim Omaji cast against type as the loathsome, Ike Turner. Like Ngwenya, Omaji, previously known as dancer, Timomatic, has been attracting attention in roles such as Tyrone in Fame, Benny in In the Heights and Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, but as Ike Turner he reveals himself as a formidable dramatic actor.

Among the fine supporting cast, Ibinabo Jack as Zelma Bullock, Mat Verevis as Roger Davis, Matthew Prime as Erwin Bach, John O’Hara as Phil Spector and Nadia Komazec as Rhonda Graam are stand-outs, while ten-year-old Amara Kavaliku, as young Anna-Mae, delighted with the strength of her strong singing voice which hinted at the voice which would eventually lift Tina Turner to world fame.

While the musical bio is no longer a novelty, the clever way songs associated with Turner’s career are woven through a strong dramatic narrative, enhanced by excellent set and costume design by Mark Thompson, imaginative choreography by Anthony Van Laast which accurately skewers the changes in dance styles which signpost Turners long career, and the definitive direction of Phyllida Lloyd, all combine to ensure that Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, besides paying tribute to the strength and endurance of the person who inspired it, will also remain an inspiration and treasured memory for those fortunate enough to experience it.

Theatre Royal, 108 King Street, Sydney
Performance: Wednesday 17 May 2023 (media night)
Season continues to 22 October 2023
Information and Bookings: www.tinathemusical.com.au

Image: Ruva Ngwenya in TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL – photo by Daniel Boud

Review: Bill Stephens OAM