As one rock and roll legend leaves the building in South East Queensland, another has just arrived. Tina – the Tina Turner Musical has shimmied into QPAC and chronicles the rise, fall and legendary comeback of the Queen of Rock and Roll.

Presented by TEG Dainty with Stage Entertainment, Tina premiered on the West End in 2018, moving to Broadway soon after, where it was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, earning a win for its star. It premiered in Sydney in May 2023. As executive producer, Tina Turner was key to the musical’s development, alongside Pulitzer Prize book writer Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in a little town called Nutbush, Tennessee, Act One traces Tina’s troubled childhood, her years on the southern R&B circuit with bandleader and future husband, Ike Turner, her rise to fame, the years of domestic violence, and the career crash that nearly claimed her life. The story moves at a cracking pace as there is a lot of ground to cover.

As Tina, Ruva Ngwenya barely had time to leave the stage, to the point that one costume was often revealed under another, and wig changes occurred right before our eyes! Clever costume design by Mark Thompson alongside the assistance of skilled cast mates made these transitions as seamless as possible.

An Act One highlight was the recording studio scene where Phil Spector famously put Tina through her paces and asked her to sing to the god that was in herself. And sing she did, with Ngwenya’s performance of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ reaching all the right emotional heights. It was this pivotal 1966 recording that awarded Tina international fame, and in 1967, she became the first woman and first person of colour to make the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

‘Proud Mary’ was another Act One highlight, and it was this hit, a cover of the Credence Clearwater Revival classic, that earned Ike and Tina their first Grammy Award in 1971. Such was the power of Tina’s vocals that she would often cover other people’s songs and have greater success with them than the originals.

The choreography by Anthony Van Laast was tight, and the Ikettes backing dancers brought pizzazz with their frenetic moves. Rebecca Selley’s incredible dancing skills in particular pulled my eye every time she was on stage.

Act One’s closing number was confronting as we saw Tina finally breaking free from her abuse from Ike. It’s worth noting that Tina wanted this musical to chart her journey, and at times that journey wasn’t pretty. Some critics of previous seasons did not like the musical’s emphasis on Tina as a victim, but her triumph does arrive in Act Two. In turn, some critics of the Elvis musical didn’t appreciate how it omitted his darker times, so it’s hard to win either way.



But it is Act Two where the show truly came into its own. There was a palpable feeling of relief as Mat Verevis, who played Tina’s long-time Australian manager Roger Davies, burst onto the stage with charisma and Pseudo Echo vibes in his ‘80s wig and costuming.

One of the funniest scenes in the show was in the London recording studio where Blake Erickson and John O’Hara (as Martyn Ware and Terry Britten) played their quirky demo of ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ for Roger and for Tina, who was taken aback by the new-wave sound and the fact that all the music was coming from electronic equipment and not live instruments.

It’s also in London where we see Tina meet and fall in love with her life partner, German record exec Erwin Bach, played by Adelaide export Matthew Prime with neat German accent and fabulous wig. Through Bach’s persuasion, Tina records ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It,’ a song that was originally rejected by Cliff Richard, a song that was first recorded and then shelved by Bucks Fizz. The rest is record-breaking history.

The moment that Ngwenya transformed into ‘80s Tina with her unmistakable huge blonde hair, leather mini dress and denim jacket was steeped in nostalgia and was a show highlight. ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ was released in 1984 and was Tina’s first and only Billboard Hot 100 number-one single. At 44 years old, Tina was the oldest female solo artist to top that chart. The song became the year’s second highest-selling single in the US and earned her three Grammy Awards. Her subsequent album, Private Dancer, re-launched Tina’s career and is regarded as one of the biggest comebacks in music history.

I remember listening to ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ when I was a kid, playing at home with my Barbie dolls. Flash forward to 2022 and Tina became her own damn Barbie doll, released in commemoration of that mega-hit and dressed in that same iconic outfit, taken from the music video.

The show concluded with one favourite hit after the next, from the highly emotional ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero,’ sung right after the scene where her mum passed away, to the explosive concert finale complete with live, on-stage band. The crowd was on its feet and the stage lights almost blew our eyeballs out with its intensity. It was at this moment that Ngwenya truly encapsulated Tina and elevated into full rock star mode. It was simply the best.

(I was today years old when I learned that ‘The Best’ was a cover of a song originally written and recorded by Bonnie Tyler.)

Tina Turner passed away on 24th May 2023, but her legacy will live forever.

Tina – the Tina Turner Musical is playing at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC until 23rd August.


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Photo credit: Daniel Boud