The Providence Performing Arts Center kicked off its 2022/2023 this week with a powerhouse presentation of “TINA – The Tina Turner Musical.”

Press night was Wednesday, but because the national tour is launching from Providence, the show opened on Sunday. By Wednesday, there was already significant buzz on social media outlets praising the show.

And it did not disappoint. The show opened without an overture, with the curtain rising on a wigged and costumed Tina – the one we all remember from her music videos – heading up a lit-up staircase. That simple action triggered huge applause.

That Tina disappears, replaced by a younger version of herself, a little girl named Anna Mae, singing at the top of her lungs at a church service in Nutbush, Tennessee. “Tina” wasn’t born until her later association with Ike Turner.

Right away, we get a glimpse into Tina’s early years. Her mother criticizes her. “You always too loud. You embarrass me.” We see the way Tina’s father, the preacher at the church, abuses her mother physically. We see the mother leave her husband and Tina behind. “You the one wanted her so bad. You take care of her.”

 Naomi Rogers as Tina (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

“TINA” is the story of a woman who experienced an array of challenges – broken home, abusive mother, abusive husband, racism, misogynism, a suicide attempt and more – and managed to succeed in spite of it all.

Tina’s story is fascinating and powerful, and naturally, “TINA” is filled with music. Ike & Tina’s music, and Tina’s music, and it’s all performed beautifully. At one point in the show, someone says Tina is known as James Brown in a skirt. Tina counters with, “He’s Tina Turner in pants.”

Two actors split the role of Tina, alternating nights. On press night, we saw Naomi Rodgers knock it out of the park as Tina. By the time the second act opened, you were convinced that was actually Tina Turner on the stage.

This is by no means an imitation. It’s a portrayal, complete with a husky voice, short-skirted costumes, amazing wigs and a physicality unlike anything I’ve seen before in a musical theater performance. Watching Rodgers, it’s obvious why she and Zurin Villanueva alternate. Only a superwoman could do what Rodgers did on Wednesday eight shows a week.

There’s a certain electricity in the air, and when Rodgers launched into “River Deep – Mountain High,” it was palpable. Other very recognizable Tina songs were “Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “Simply the Best,” and “What’s Love Got to Do with It?,” Tina’s first solo number one song.

Of course, “Proud Mary” was performed twice – once toward the end of the first act, and again as part of the finale.

The audience on Wednesday absolutely loved the show. They were on their feet with a standing ovation before the final song was done and stayed on their feet all through the bows and a three-song encore.

“TINA – The Tina Turner Musical” is a fantastic night of theater, and for those of us who grew up listening to Tina Turner and her hits, it’s a terrific trip down memory lane.

And kudos to the folks at PPAC. This is the 21st national tour to launch from Providence, which is pretty amazing. The list starts back in 2008 with “Legally Blonde the Musical.” Since then, PPAC has launched shows like “Young Frankenstein,” “Evita,” “Once,” “Beautiful” and “The Band’s Visit.”

“TINA – The Tina Turner Musical” runs through Sunday at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org

Frank O'Donnell

Frank O’Donnell has worn many different hats. As an actor, he’s performed in three professional theatrical productions and countless community theater productions. He’s written, produced and directed four holiday-themed shows and once helmed the Notfanuttin’ Players, specializing in audience-participation dinner shows. He’s been performing as a stand-up comedian since 1982 and has been inducted into the RI Comedy Hall of Fame. He’s written comedy for other performers, like Bob Hope, Jay Leno and Joe Piscopo. He’s opened for performers as diverse as the Judds, Michael Bolton, Chicago, David Brenner, Gilbert Gottfried and more. He’s been writing reviews and features about theater in Rhode Island for better than two decades. His work to help save the monarch butterfly has been chronicled on NBC Nightly News and he is president of the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund. A native of Providence and long-time resident of North Providence, Frank now calls Jamestown home. He and his wife Karen – who he met when both were students at Classical High School – have four children, and recently became grandparents.