If there’s one Black musician whose life fans feel they know in and out, it’s Tina Turner, thanks to the success of 1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It, starring Angela Bassett. But audiences who get a chance to watch the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll’s life unfold on the stage will learn there’s more to Turner’s journey than they ever knew before.
TINA – The Tina Turner Musical has officially reopened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with Nkeki Obi-Melekwe starring in the title role. Since its world premiere in 2018, the production which opened on Broadway November 7, 2019 and is written by Tony Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall along with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, has been nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
As the curtain opens once again on this work of art, we got a chance to talk with Turner about what it means for her story to have such impact on screen and stage and why what’s most important to her is that people find hope in her journey.
Katori Hall described the experience of bringing your story to life as “kismet” to us. What has it felt like for you to have your story be told over and over again on the stage? What do you hope audiences take away from seeing your life on Broadway?
TINA TURNER: We learn from stories, and the more often they’re told, the more we learn. I used to question why anyone would be interested in my life. I said no to the musical, no to the book, no to everything, until I realized that my life is a story, and it’s bigger than me. Someone facing a challenge could see it and understand the power of never, ever, giving up, of fighting for a dream, of finding happiness inside and outside ourselves. I always wanted to be a teacher, someone who shares what they’ve learned. Telling my story is my way of doing that.
What are some elements of your life and career the theater production of TINA is able to amplify that your biographical film and even recent documentary didn’t?
TURNER: Everything is amplified in the musical because it’s an experience. The lights go down, the music starts, the characters are right there in that theater with you. The first time I saw the show, I was on the edge of my seat, and I knew everything that was going to happen because I lived it. But I still felt a sense of wonder. What will I see? How will it make me feel? You’re not just watching; you’re pulled in because it’s emotional. And some of the musical numbers, like Proud Mary, have the energy and spectacle you’d find at one of my concerts. That’s what theater can do. It’s bigger than life.
Talk about Nkeki Obi-Melekwe’s talent and ability to embody you as a performer.
TURNER: Nkeki came to visit me in Switzerland. We had tea together and I had a chance to see firsthand her strength and her optimism about life and its possibilities. She’s young, but she has an old soul. These qualities, along with her incredible talent, are what make her a wonderful Tina. I always say to the women who play the role, “Don’t try to mimic Tina! It’s not an impersonation. Reach inside yourself and become her. “ Nkeki has that power.
What’s your favorite scene or act in the musical?
TURNER: “River Deep, Mountain High” gets me every time. This highpoint in the musical – the audience loves it — was a big moment in my life, the first time I recorded a song on my own, with Phil Spector, without Ike there telling me what to do. I found my own voice when I sang that song. This first taste of freedom led me to want – and fight for — a different life. I didn’t understand it at the time, but when I see that scene in the show, I see the beginning of everything.
Last year you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. Do you feel you have fully received your flowers for your contributions to music over the years?
TURNER: It was thrilling to be honored as a solo artist because I’ve been on my own for almost forty-six years, that’s most of my career. And I appreciated being celebrated by my peers. But I don’t dwell on recognition. I’ve always gotten so much love and support from my fans. How they feel about my music, if a song touches or inspires them, makes them happy, or just makes them want to sing along and dance, that’s what’s important to me.