DETROIT – The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll is taking the stage again, but this time as a smash hit Broadway musical now playing at the Detroit Opera House.
We sat down with the stars of Tina: Zurin Villanueva, one of the two alternating Tina Turners, and Garrett Turner, who plays ex-husband Ike Turner, about playing two icons every night.
Do you remember the first time you heard Tina or Ike Turner?
Villanueva: It’s hard, I was young. It was probably “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
Turner: Even when I was a kid, all I knew was just the music. I don’t even know who’s singing this, but you know it’s good.
You both get to play such iconic musicians. How did you learn their mannerisms and performance styles?
Villanueva: Well, YouTube is wonderful. The fact that I can sit there and watch entire concerts is very, very helpful. What did actors do back in the day?
Turner: That’s the wonderful thing about being an actor in 2022, there’s just so many resources in terms of research at our fingertips. I scoured the internet for every single video, home video, anything of them on the road like walking between venues. And then, of course, the iconic performances. Then I start to piece that together.
Do you feel any pressure to actually be Tina and Ike for audiences?
Villanueva: Yes I do. As much as Tina is in my performance, I always feel like I could put more.
Turner: There’s definitely a pressure because the person is so iconic. Of course, Laurence Fishburne’s role in the film What’s Love Got to do With It? is so iconic within itself. So you’re stepping into these shoes, but I think so much of my process was a relieving of pressure. Standing on myself being like, “Okay, I’m me and I can watch this man being this man.” So where can we meet in the middle so I can serve Katori Hall’s text for this show? That within itself was freeing that amalgamation no one else can achieve.
How do you channel them each night?
Villanueva: I meditate. I dance. I listen to them. I just feel like listening to her on a regular basis just puts her in there somehow.
Turner: Likewise. It’s so interesting you say meditate, Zurin, because that’s essentially what Ike didn’t do in his actual life. There’s even lines in our show about how Ike eschews the Buddhism that Tina takes on. But I sort of embraced it in my process, at least in terms of grounding myself before every performance. It can weigh a lot on one’s spirit playing someone like Ike who was abusive in the ways that he was.
How do you enjoy working together?
Villanueva: Garrett is a wonderful scene partner. You take care of me. I feel like we are always paying attention to where the other person is. I feel like we’re always listening and responding. We communicate in all of the ways to communicate.
Turner: Amen. And paying attention is so crucial. In this kind of show, you’re dealing with triggering material and the things we have to go through on stage every night. Listening on stage is one form of paying attention, but also being in tune with each other’s spirits. When we walk into the theater that night, “How are we today?” Because that is going to inform what happens. It’s the same for the whole cast. Naomi [Rodgers] is playing Tina every other night and we have understudies who are going on this week. So there’s a lot of differentiated listening that has to go on.
Garrett, you play opposite different Tinas every night. Do you approach the way you act differently?
Turner: I have the wonderful opportunity to grace the stage with these different women who are just phenomenal. They know I come with the same approach. When I’m Ike, I’m like, “Yo, I run this.” I step on stage and whoever’s there, I’m like “Y’all got to deal with me.” It’s really just a beautiful interplay between all the different people we get to work with.
What’s one thing you learned about both Ike and Tina that you didn’t know until you got on the show?
Villanueva: The first thing I did not know was that she was a stickler for how her Ikettes were dressed. And the dancing, I didn’t know that she was the one in charge of the Ikettes’ moves and choreography. So watching those videos again was even more thrilling – she just made that up. In her book, she talks about singing with a broken jaw. Doing a show with a broken jaw is especially excruciating because you’re actually using your jaw when you sing. I can’t imagine how she did that. So no more complaints from me ever.
Turner: For me, I think it was the extent to wish Ike was a musical genius, how he played piano just as well as he played guitar and learned both by ear when he was really young. I knew of the ways in which Ike was abusive himself, but I didn’t know as much about the abuse he underwent when he was younger. He was sexually assaulted, and his father was essentially lynched by this white mob. So there was a lot of what he went through that informed who he was. Obviously, that doesn’t function as any excuse for who he chose to be, but there were a lot of compounding circumstances in his youth.
Zurin, what was it like performing for us at America’s Thanksgiving Parade in the short dress and the cold?
Villanueva: I was actually very scared about the cold, but it was actually pretty warm that day. But I slathered my body with Vaseline as I was told that the football players do this. It actually really helped. But I really enjoyed it. The dress is beautiful, I’m glad we chose that one. That was my first Thanksgiving parade so I did not expect to do it solo. I’m used to working with the cast, so I can’t believe my first time was by myself. This is not anything I could have expected.
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is now playing at the Detroit Opera House through December 18 with a runtime of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Tickets start at $35. For more information and showtimes, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.