As improbable as it sounds, Tina Turner — the rock and pop legend known for her soulful vocals, mile-long legs and indefatigable spirit — turns 80 at the end of November. And Broadway is celebrating with a new musical that tells her remarkable life story.
“Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” which stars Adrienne Warren as the Grammy-winning diva herself, opens Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. It recounts the singer’s humble beginnings (in Nutbush, Tennessee), her rise to rock stardom with the controlling, abusive Ike Turner, her desperate years (after leaving Ike in 1976, when nearly every major record label rejected her bid for a solo career), and then her astounding comeback with 1984’s multi-platinum “Private Dancer” album. She was 44 at the time — ancient, by industry standards back then.
“Getting away from Ike Turner after 16 years of abuse is just the beginning of her trials,” said the show’s director, Phyllida Lloyd, in a recent Playbill interview. Racism, sexism and ageism all take their toll, Lloyd explains. “She didn’t make her debut on a stadium stage till she was nearly 50.”
The show — with powerful renditions of Turner hits like “Proud Mary,” “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Simply the Best” — should bring back memories for local fans who’ve caught Turner in concert. She and Ike played Long Island City’s Honka Monka Club in 1970, where Great Neck native Bob Gruen first shot photos of the duo (launching his career as a legendary rock photographer). In the last 35 years she’s returned six times for high-octane solo shows at Jones Beach and Nassau Coliseum.
“Tina Turner seemed the epitome of femininity, raw, pure will and passion,” recalls Cindy Davis, an adjunct professor of English at New York Institute of Technology and SUNY Farmingdale, who saw Turner twice at Jones Beach.
In her 1987 “Break Every Rule” tour, Turner sang her staples plus several covers (from the Beatles to Al Green), “crushing any memory you had of the original version,” Davis says. “Everyone was on their feet. I remember leaving that concert thinking nothing could stop her.”
On her last LI visit (at Nassau Coliseum in 2008, during her “50th Anniversary” tour), Turner, at 69, seemed as sexy and gutsy as ever, singing her hit “Nutbush City Limits” while dancing in stiletto heels along a narrow cantilevered beam that extended above the audience.
“I just have energy,” Turner said, in an “Entertainment Tonight” interview that year. “I was born with this.”
That energy, especially for female fans, is infectious.
“She had that strut,” notes Davis. “Tina gave young women the feeling they could do anything.”