Review: Exuberant ‘Tina’ is a wild kind of coronation

Zurin Villanueva stars in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” this week at the Des Moines Civic Center. She shares the role with Naomi Rodgers. Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

Writer: Michael Morain

In most shows about singers, they spend a lot of time finding their voice. That’s not the case in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” onstage through Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center, where the star’s raw talent is apparent even when she’s a cute little pipsqueak in the church choir in Nutbush, Tennessee.

As her grandmother puts it, that voice tumbles out of her “like fire and heaven all at once.”

So with the voice already in place, the musical instead recounts how Turner finds all the pieces to back it up – all the love, confidence and artistic freedom she needs to claim her crown as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The show obediently follows the basic outline of similar biographical jukebox musicals and the 1993 movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” even though it’s itching, like its star, to just let loose and rock out. That release finally arrives at the end, when the show shifts into concert mode and Turner ascends a colossal staircase to belt out “Simply the Best” in full sequins, stilettos and a wig that a stagehand may have forgotten to pack up last month after “The Lion King.”

On Tuesday night the title role belonged to the exuberant Zurin Villanueva, whose legs are so long you’d think she was discovered at a track meet instead of a casting call  until you hear her sing. She captures the whole range of Turner’s sound  rough, raw, smooth, sultry  from early ’60s soul through disco and full-on rock ‘n’ roll. And all that while dancing like the stage just burst into flames? That alone is worth the price of admission.

There are other gifted voices among the cast, notably Roderick Lawrence in the thankless role of Turner’s husband, Ike, and Roz White as her mother. Behind them, a humongous LED backdrop paints some memorable pictures, including sound waves in a recording session and a swirl of colors during a psychedelic drug trip.

Even so, there’s no disputing the main attraction, whose name, after all, appears twice in the show’s five-word title. If you ever saw the real deal in concert, this is your chance to relive it. And if you didn’t, well, it’s the closest you’ll get unless the show’s 83-year-old namesake comes out of retirement in Switzerland.

But who knows? She’s overcome tougher things before.

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