With 200 million records sold, iconic American singer Tina Turner is known worldwide by her big hair, even bigger voice, and her powerful songs that include “River Deep – Mountain High” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Now the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll’s empowering story comes to life on stage in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, which opens on Broadway November 7 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
“This took me out of retirement,” the now 79-year-old said of the musical, which had its world premiere last year at the Aldwych Theatre in London, where it opened to five-star reviews and continues playing sold-out performances.
Turner’s struggles and triumphant success is what inspired director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) to want to share her story with the world. The musical isn’t about her stardom, but the tenacious path she took to get there. “This is about a woman’s journey to freedom,” Lloyd said of the plot’s core message of beating impossible odds. “All of us working on it feel like guardian angels of her legacy.”
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she worked on cotton fields as a child. “You look around and you see the nothingness going as far as the eye can see,” said book writer Katori Hall of Nutbush. “You wonder how she was able to dream a dream she didn’t see around her. There were no role models for her to become an entertainer, and yet this one little rose was able to grow out of the concrete of this small oppressive town and change the universe.”
It was 1960 when Anna Mae was first introduced to the public as Tina Turner as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. She married Ike two years later, and then endured years of domestic abuse, as detailed in her autobiography, I, Tina.
“There were many times where I got really knocked out,” Turner told Lloyd of her past. “Sometimes I stood on stage and had pain like you cannot imagine. I had a swollen nose. But you go through it. You have to plow through it, you have to suffer with it, [and] you have to sweat with it. We weren’t canceling shows because we needed the money. Sometimes I was in tears on stage. I knew it wasn’t Hollywood — it was real. Ike Turner was the star and I was Cinderella. There was nothing given to Tina. She was really a slave girl.”
At first, Tina believed she didn’t need a musical about her life, but eventually she had a change of heart. “I get cards and letters — you can’t believe what people think about the legacy I left,” she said. “People said I gave them hope.”
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical isn’t a tribute show. Producer Tali Pelman explains that the creative team was not looking for an actress to mimic Turner. “We wanted somebody to embody Tina and make it her own,” she says.
“Everyone said [to me], ‘Who is going to be you? Because she is going to have a lot of shoes to fill,’” Turner said of the casting process. At a launch event for the West End production, Turner announced that she had personally picked Tony Award nominee Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along) to portray her in the musical. Warren joined her on stage to sing “Proud Mary,” one of the 11-time Grammy Award winner’s biggest hits.
It was destiny for Warren, who had a photo hanging up in her childhood bedroom in Chesapeake, Virginia, that said: I want to be the next Tina Turner. “Did I think it would come true so literally? No!” she exclaimed. She admitted that this role might be the biggest challenge of her career. Warren will reprise her acclaimed performance on Broadway this fall.
It’s “a celebration of triumph over adversity,” The Guardian reported of the London premiere. “This is as good as it gets!” The New York Times critic said the production “possesses a seismic power. I’ve rarely heard an audience with this mighty a roar.” Variety called Warren’s portrayal “way beyond perfect. She is Tina Turner.”
“There would be no Beyoncé without Tina Turner,” Hall said of the singer’s relevance today.
Added Turner: “I really want it to be a success. I hope it will travel the world and serve what the people need from me as a reminder of my work.”
Pictured above: Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner. Photo by Manuel Harlan.