Volume 5, Number 5 | February 2 – 8, 2006


River Deep

Gabrielle Lansner

Peter Jay Sharp Theater

416 W. 42nd St.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 p.m.

Through Feb. 4

$35; 212-279-4200.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the Tongue

Text gets in the way of dance homage to Tina Turner

A great deal of sincerity and talent went into the making of “River Deep, A Tribute to Tina Turner” — an hour-long production with choreography by Gabrielle Lansner, original music by Philip Hamilton, costumes by Liz Prince, and glamorous cast photos by Stephanie Berger. But this respectful labor of love reminds us of one unshakeable truth — Angela Bassett notwithstanding, nobody does Tina like Tina.

To be sure, Lansner’s Ikettes have the old moves down cold — arms and legs pumping, hair flying, they do the Twist, the Hitch Hike, the Frug, the Swim, and more, skittering and spinning in high heels and gilded miniskirts. Erica Bowen, Zainab Jah, Heather Lind, and Paula McGonagle — along with lead actor Pat Hall in her quin-Tina-sential shag minidress — are at their best when Hamilton’s juicy combo ratchets up the heat and the dancers fan out across the stage. But too often they’re hobbled by Lansner’s text — monologues based on stories and reflections from “I, Tina,” the autobiography Turner wrote with Kurt Loder. Each dancer delivers segments of Lansner’s wordy, sometimes confusing exposition, and most do not wield steady enough vocal projection to prop it up and make it work as theater.

Since most Tina Turner fans have already boogied down that memory lane many times — most spectacularly with the aforementioned Bassett — it’s doubtful that we need a show that goes into so much detail about how Nutbush’s Anna Mae Bullock became the world’s Tina, how Ike Turner was such a nasty bastard, and how a Buddhist chant can snatch us from the jaws of personal disaster. Too often the text depresses — even flatlines — the show’s energy and momentum.

From the outset, actor Hall embodies subtlety and thoughtfulness, foreshadowing the wised-up music industry veteran and survivor of domestic violence that Turner would one day become. A fine dancer, Hall nevertheless possesses none of the physical explosiveness or scintillating vocal power necessary for a convincing portrayal of Turner. “River Deep” does not include any Ike & Tina showstoppers or any numbers from Turner’s mature solo career. For that matter, it includes no photo images of the real Tina. The nostalgic and motivational ballads Hamilton wrote for Hall are warm and lovely — and Hall presents them with feeling — but their style is not what we think about when we think about The Goddess.

Lansner gifted Hall with one affecting solo, combining abstract modern dance and African movement. It’s a lonely, wrenching remaking of self from the inside out that evokes Turner’s warrior spirit. As they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Hall concludes this dance, slowly, steamily strutting away from the audience, raising one arm up (snap!), out (snap!), and down (snap!) A star controlling her band, controlling the beat, at last at the controls of her own life.