This show is an absolute must-see. A rush of history burst from the very beginning. With the vocal prowess of Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, It’s easy to see why she was chosen to play the iconic singer in this jukebox musical. Nkeki embodies the singer with commanding power and seemingly never-ending energy.
There was a vibration and a buzz of energy waiting to burst open within the crowd. Upon immediately walking into the theater, I wondered what this feeling was. I became familiar with Turner’s music at a young age, thanks to my mother blasting songs like “Simply the Best” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It” in the mornings before I went to school, which gave me a non-caffeinated boost to start my day. This energy, however, was more pervasive. It was as if everyone knew what was about to happen but me!
It looked like a full-blown concert was about to go down as the show began. Nkeki kneeled away from the audience, chanting, with what appeared to be an elaborate stage set up, although mostly covered, in the background. My excitement started to kick in. Was this the moment? Then suddenly, blackout. The stage clears, and the audience is whisked back to Tina’s younger years. The lights come back up with the stage arranged to an elegant but minimalist setup–a style and format used throughout the show–and work well. The fantastic costumes and some soulful gospel music immediately told us where we were, allowing our imaginations to set the rest of the stage–the church’s choir immediately. A young Tina, or Anna Mae Bullock, sits in the front and is easy to spot. Little Anna Mae can barely contain herself in her seat and belts out the good word.
Minutes after, we see the start of the troubling domestic abuse that plagues Tina’s life and career, starting with a bit of the backstory of Tina witnessing her father’s physical violence with her mother. Mama Bullock was not afraid to fight back during a period when spousal abuse was ignored or quietly accepted. This theme plays throughout most of the show as we venture through the infamous Ike and Tina Turner years. Even with a short and straightforward story arc, the audience remains involved as the story progresses. For example, there are some great one-liners throughout the show, including some from Tina to Ike. And the crowd would respond out loud, like a sassy best friend sitting on the sidelines cheering you on when you tell your boss to stick it.
When Tina transitions away from Ike, we see the dawning of her famous wig, performing the fan-favorite “What’s Love Got to Do with It .”The songs flowed well overall by tying in nicely with the story. Songs like “I Can’t Stand the Rain” allowed Nkeki to show off some of her impressive range and vulnerability. Every piece proved to be a true crowd-pleaser. With the show approaching the end, we arrive back at that elaborate stage we briefly saw in the beginning, now entirely in view. The show wraps up on a high note. But wait, it’s not over. Nkeki still had plenty in the tank as she performed more songs in a mini-concert for the attendees. Nkeki, with her amazing stage presence, had no issues breaking that fourth wall, and it was indeed an enjoyable experience.
The stage was electric. The energy that had been seething with slight peaks here and there now had completely surged. People were dancing in the aisles like nobody was watching. To be clear, this was a Tuesday night. Not a Friday, “I just got out of work and now I’m pumped.” Nope. It was a Tuesday, “I have to get up early for work in the morning,” kind of night, and it didn’t matter. I had to check my calendar because they rocked that place like it was 1985. So basically, what I’m suggesting is to see the show. Any night is safe, even on a Tuesday.