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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In ‘Tina,’ a rock and roll icon takes center stage and holds it

Naomi Rodgers performing “What’s Love Got To Do With It” as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.”  (Matthew Murphy )
Carolyn Lamberson For The Spokesman-Review

She was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 and raised in Nutbush, Tennessee. By the time she died earlier this year half a world away in Switzerland, she was known far and wide by another name. Two, actually.

Tina Turner. The Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Turner’s legacy lives on in her catalog of iconic tunes such as “Proud Mary” and “River Deep – Mountain High,” recorded with her ex-husband, Ike Turner, and her solo hits “Private Dancer,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “Better Be Good To Me.”

Those songs now serve as the foundation of the 2019 Broadway musical, “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical,” which comes to the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Tuesday to kick off the new season of the Best of Broadway series.

Turner’s story was told first in her autobiography, “I, Tina,” then in 1993 with the film “What’s Love Got to do With,” which featured a searing, iconic performance from Angela Bassett. In 2018, the stage musical, “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical,” directed by Phyllida Lloyd with a book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, opened on the Went End in London, before transferring to Broadway in 2019.

Naomi Rodgers went into her audition for the role of Tina Turner with her eyes opened, knowing exactly what it would mean to don the singer’s wig and step into her formidable shoes.

“I knew and understood the weight and the gravity of what I was auditioning for,” she said. “I knew how excited I was about it.”

The show covers the length of Turners’ life, from her childhood in rural Tennessee, to her early career and her tumultuous, violent marriage to her first husband, Ike Turner, through her 1980s comeback and beyond. When she died this past May at age 83, Rodgers and her fellow castmates were on a break from the tour, which turned out to be a good thing, she said.

“We had time to process and grieve like we needed to. We had a moment to sit in it and realize what we wanted to do when we got back, and that’s a really good thing,” she said. “Everybody came back with an even greater purpose.”

The role is quite strenuous. Rodgers is on stage for most of it, and she alternates performances with Ari Groover. Turner was known as much for her powerful voice as her charisma as a performer, and to attempt to channel that energy is a huge challenge.

“I really have gained so much strength from this role. I knew I had strength inside myself; I’ve been a firecracker all my life. I’m a ball of energy, and that’s what Tina is. She’s always been a ball of energy since she was a little girl. We know that story. Going into this role required you to go 100,000 percent with mind, body and soul,” she said. “It’s so much fun to do, but it takes two powerful Black women to come play this role and give 1,000% every night on that stage. … It’s got to be good, it’s got to be perfect. The Tinas need to get their rest.”

Another thing Tina Turner was known for was her legs, which she reportedly had insured for $3.2 million during the height of her career. Rodgers, who trained as a dancer, didn’t have to work too hard to get her own legs into Tina shape.

“My mom kept me in dance for a really long time in my life, so I did ballet and jazz, and I did dance competition for a while growing up,” she said, laughing.

The jukebox musical includes 21 songs. For Rodgers, the highlight each night comes from early in the singer’s solo career.

“Anytime I do the number ‘Disco Inferno,’ the iconic song she sings from her Vegas days, when I sing that part, I get to point to people in the audience, and that’s when I get really excited, when I get to interact with the audience and see people’s reactions.”

Also, Rodgers advised, don’t sleep on those Ikettes, the legendary backup singers of the Ike and Tina Turner Musical Revue.

“These Ikettes are phenomenal. We are like sisters on that stage. It really feels like we are looking back when we’re on stage because we’re wearing these gorgeous wigs and we’re playing these characters, acting like sisters, joking like sisters, but also that’s how we feel off stage,” Rodgers said. “To see that bond that Tina has with them is a beautiful thing.”