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Broadway's Tina Turner musical returns as theaters reopen


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Last Sunday - as Broadway was reopening - Adrienne Warren won a Tony award for her performance as Tina Turner in the musical about the singer's journey to become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time.

Turner won her first solo Grammy in 1984 for the song "What's Love Got to do With it" after leaving her husband and musical partner Ike Turner. The musical features 20 songs - including 'Proud Mary' with Ike Turner - through songs on her blockbuster solo album 'Private Dancer'.

NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Karla Murthy spoke with the cast and writer about how the musical captures Tina Turner's spirit.

Karla Murthy: If you never got a chance to see Tina Turner in concert before she retired in 2009, this Broadway show might be the closest you'll ever get. Tina the Musical tells the dramatic story of Turner's rise and fall and legendary comeback to become a global musical icon.

After over a year on hiatus during the pandemic, the show is back in rehearsal and set to reopen this Friday. But before Broadway shutdown, I got a chance to see the show and sit down with lead actress, Adrienne Warren.

When I saw the musical, I felt the wind through my hair when you hit a few notes. Not just once, but several times. How do you do that?

Adrienne Warren: I think the thing that's so special about Tina is she kind of has this voice that is of the earth, it seems like. She has no top and no bottom to it. And just finding the intricacies of her voice, like how does she attack her consonants, how does she form her mouth when she's forming these vowels? What are the rhythms in which she is singing these songs? That is what I learned was the most important thing about her, she's such a rhythmic singer. And I kind of just try to channel her as much as I can and find the essence of her.

Tina Turner: Hello there stranger.

Adrienne Warren: Hello!

Karla Murthy: And Warren says she had the perfect mentor to teach her to be Tina.

Tina Turner: You know I didn't see you dance yet. Can you do the pony?

Adrienne Warren: Yes of course!

Tina Turner: Do it a little bit.

Adrienne Warren: Right now?

Tina Turner: Yeah.

Adrienne Warren That?

Tina Turner: No.

Adrienne Warren: Wait, teach me!

Tina Turner: You do it from the foot...

Adrienne Warren: it's not always the case that you get to actually have that person a part of the process with you.

Tina Turner: And then your hair goes with it.. (laughs)

Adrienne Warren: It's a dream come true. That's an understatement to actually get to say Tina Turner actually got to help me be her (laughs).

Katori Hall: We need to go back to the roots. Go back to the soil. Walk the fields she walked. See that world that gave us Tina Turner.

Karla Murthy: To bring her story to life, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall traveled to Nutbush, Tennessee, where Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock.

Katori Hall: I mean you look around here and you wonder, how she was able to dream a dream that she didn't see around her and yet this one little rose was able to grow out of the concrete.

Karla Murthy: So you're both from Tennessee.

Katori Hall: Yeah

Karla Murthy: How does growing up in Tennessee inform your writing?

Katori Hall: I mean I always say that I write more about place than about race. Being from the south, we are still dealing with so many intersections of -isms. It's a very complicated place. Slavery and inheriting that history has always been a heavy load to bear. But you know, the south is also just a beautiful place because it's a - it's a place that I think is shored up by community and kindness. And so, I'm just adamant that I want to see the South represented truthfully, honestly, and loudly, and like unapologetically, on the American stage.

Karla Murthy: Hall also spoke with Tina Turner about addressing the years of abuse she endured while she was with her husband and musical partner, Ike Turner.

Katori Hall: A part of her was like, I don't know if people are really going to sit through me being slapped around, and I was like you went through it for 16 years, they can take it for a few minutes They can take that. So I think that kind of put her at ease. But there definitely was some trepidation on her part.

Karla Murthy: She also wanted to show a different side of Ike Turner than what was widely known about him.

Katori Hall: The narrative and the public opinion of him was very sharp, and automatically you're like, he's the villain of her life story. I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure that, you know, you don't, it's not to excuse the actions, but I wanted people to understand where this man came from, and possibly begin to be able to answer the question of why he did what he did to Tina.

Daniel J. Watts: I looked into the role, looking into the way that Katori had written it, and he wasn't just a monster.

Karla Murthy: Daniel Watts plays Ike Turner. He says learning Ike's biography inspired him to humanize the musician.

Daniel J. Watts: By the time Ike met Anna Mae Bullock he was 26 years old, his father had been killed by a white lynch mob, his stepfather was abusive. He created what is considered the first rock and roll song, but never got credit for it. You know like, just a lot had been taken from him, and he took that out on everybody else the rest of his life.

Karla Murthy: What is it like to do those fight scenes, and to portray domestic violence on stage in a musical?

Daniel J. Watts: I hate it. I hate it, I've always hated it. I hate it every day. It's necessary. I understand the necessity of it. I think when you hear about it, it's one thing, when you see it, it does a different thing emotionally. You know, I think that Tina Turner should get a lot of the credit for the "me too" movement, you know, she was one of the first to tell her story.

Karla Murthy: Tina was 17 years old when she first met Ike, and left him when she was 36, walking away from not only from their marriage but her career.

Adrienne Warren: I would say it's one of the hardest financial moments I think I've ever heard of in a musical performer, to actually have nothing, and be allowed to sing none of your songs because Ike Turner put a stop to that, so all she felt like she could do was go up from there. And that's unbelievably inspiring for anyone.

Katori Hall: All she had was that name, the name that Ike gave her. So I always say it's the biggest F-U to him, that she was able to, with something that he gave her, remake and rebuild, and you know, rise like a phoenix out of the ashes.

Karla Murthy: And when, you know, the curtain comes down, and the audience is leaving, what do you want them to take with them?

Katori Hall: They can survive anything they want. They can slay any dragon that steps in their way. They can triumph even against the biggest of odds.

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