The role of Tina Turner, in the musical of the same name, has to be all kinds of grueling – a massive commitment at each and every performance. The energy burn is off the charts. The vocal range and explosiveness of the voice that needs to be employed to pull this performance off is otherworldly. Which is why, I have since learned, they have cast two Tinas to play the part. They have the matinee and Tuesday night Tina, Nkeki Obi Melekwe, and at every other evening, Tina is played by the woman who in my book is a strong contender to win a Tony (even though I have yet to see her) Adrienne Warren.
I was not privy to this intel back in October when I selected our Tuesday night performance. Sorry group, but in the end not sorry because what a fascinating experience we had! And I am grateful for it. Here is what happened. During the 1st act Tuesday night Tina had solidly won over the group as this strong and wide smiling Tina. We got to witness her Tina discovering her voice and her range and her talent while getting verbally and physically abused by Ike.
Of course, we all sped back to our seats after intermission to cheer on Tina’s inevitable ascent. However, JUST as the lights were being dimmed they made a cast announcement change over the loudspeaker. Due to illness Tuesday Tina was out and now we were getting the second understudy. Can’t imagine what happened backstage as this decision was made and Tina the understudy had to scramble to get ready to take on this larger than life role with what I am guessing was scant notice.
The audience, with limited to no time to process this news, was astonished. There was much murmuring including my own tiny bit desperate pep talk to the group around me – “let’s give her a chance – I love understudies!” I am hoping half the audience felt this way and guessing the other half was not quite as charitable including the people behind me who heaved and whispered negative observations for an overly prolonged amount of time of understudy Tina’s performance.
Having never experienced this cast switch situation before, I must say that for this audience member it was an odd adjustment. Never really thought about, but you get rather attached to the performer after some 90 minutes of time together. We were solidly in Tuesday Tina’s corner. I am sure understudy Tina knew this. How terrifying to step onto that stage mid-show with zero 1st act momentum and the challenge of not only just achieving success in the role, but to shift an entire ocean of an audience into your court? Oooh what a tall and terrifying ask.
Snap. Understudy Tina eased into her role. She let her self and her voice warm to it. She didn’t mollify the crowd with outsize vocals out of the gates, but more woo’ed us as she eased us into her own particular set of talents. She was tiny compared to Tuesday Tina. But she was sneakily mighty as she crescendoed her Tina at a deliberate and appealing pace, as if to let the audience catch on and slowly but surely and perhaps forever more curry our favor.
Second Act Tina embraced a very Rolling Down the River vibe in the way she steadily seduced the audience in their seats. As she turned the tide, the audience – even the shrews behind me who by the way answered a phone call during the first act – perhaps became her battery pack because oh my did she ever deliver. She was triumphantly Tina.
I loved every second of the second Tina’s performance. I am pretty certain the group did too. It is not ruining anything for you to know that she ends the performance with “Simply The Best”. Which sums up her second act performance. Bravo to you Leandra Ellis-Gaston, you were Simply the Best (and my group was too).
Final lesson: no matter what Tina you get you are in for a treat. Absolutely grab your group and go marvel at her story and her ascent. Inspirational and there is a dance party at the end. 🙂