Tina Turner achieved great success after overcoming unthinkable odds and escaping one of the most widely-known stories of domestic violence in entertainment. Throughout her career as a rhythm and blues, soul, and rock singer, Turner won 12 Grammy awards, earning her “Queen of Rock n’ Roll” title and solidifying her status as one of the greats. Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, captures Turner’s inspiring life story through song.
After premiering on Broadway and playing in theatres around the world, Tina is finally making its way to the Mile High City. The production will play at the Denver Center for the Performing Art’s Buell Theatre from October 18-29. Appropriately timed to run during the final week of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, audiences will come face-to-face with Turner’s story of struggle and survival, while listening to her iconic catalog of music.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall, Tina is a jukebox musical, crafted with input from the musical heroine herself. Unlike the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, Turner, who was displeased with the film’s portrayal of her as a victim, had an emotional response to the musical saying, “It’s like poison that turned to medicine,” on its 2019 opening night.
The poison, as Turner called it, refers to the immense hardships she endured from childhood to adulthood, when she married the infamous musician and bandleader Ike Turner. Her marriage, which left her with physical and emotional scars, ultimately led to the turning point that propelled her to superstardom as a solo artist and immortalized her as a beacon of hope.
Tina leaves audiences in awe and amazement at Turner’s story, but for Roderick Lawrence, who takes on the role of Turner’s husband, the production carries a deeper meaning. The actor, producer and co-founder of Black Man Films took a deep dive into Ike’s backstory while preparing for the weighted role. To him, the story of brokenness that led to his character’s villainous behavior follows a path of systemic and generational disenfranchisement, similar to many others who fall from grace.
Anna Mae Bullock was born in 1939, and grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she picked cotton as a child. She started singing in the church choir at a young age, and by 16 she had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she sang in nightclubs with her sister.
In 1957, at just 18 years old, she met Ike and requested to sing in his band. Impressed by her talent, he trademarked Bullock’s name and image as “Tina Turner,” claiming ownership of her career and eventually her life. They went on to record several songs before the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was created in 1960. In 1962, the couple married and had a string of hits on the R&B charts.
Turner wrote about her abusive marriage in her 2018 memoir, “Tina Turner: My Love Story,” saying, “He used my nose as a punching bag so many times that I could taste blood running down my throat when I sang. He broke my jaw. And I couldn’t remember what it was like not to have a black eye.”
Tasked with humanizing the monstrous depictions of an abusive, Lawrence transforms himself into the controlling husband whose backstory is the impetus for behaviors that ultimately led to his demise.
“I wanted to color and round out the role, which not only shows part of why Tina was there as long as she was, but you get a glimpse into the humanity and the genius of the man, as well as all of the terrible things that we know he did,” he explains.
Lawrence goes on to point out the difficulty of playing a man like Ike and trying to unravel his journey to abuse. “It’s challenging to really dive into the depths of a broken Black man, and then have to go to the extremes of doing these terrible things that there’s no excuse for…My job is to find the hurt in a person, and find my hurt that similarly triggers, and try to mesh them so that I can understand this being.”
After years of agonizing abuse, Turner eventually fled from her husband in 1976. She was granted the use of the name and likeness she’d worked so hard and long to build, and continued her career as a solo artist.
Over time, she became one of the most acclaimed vocalists in history, headlining international tours and recording dozens of hit records. She is among a handful of artists who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, and in 2018 she was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the music industry.
Acknowledging that absolutely nothing justifies the horrible abuse Turner had to endure, Lawrence looks to the “why” in Ike’s story. “We meet Ike after he created rock and roll and it was stolen from him. We meet Ike after he watched his father beaten and killed in his yard. We meet Ike after he was the only one sober in every band he had – when he was kicking people out of his band.”
Ike met his demise in 2007, after overdosing on the drugs that played a significant role in the dissolution of the Turners’ marriage. Every bit a survivor, Turner overcame multiple health crises including high blood pressure, a stroke, intestinal cancer, and kidney failure before dying from natural causes in May 2023 at age 83.
For Lawrence, Turner’s recent passing makes the already poignant production all the more meaningful. “Being chosen to be here at this time is like a divine blessing…it’s an honor that we get to be the ones to tell her story, to keep this story going,” he says.
Admiring Turner for her perseverance, Lawrence credits his own success as an actor to his ability to overcome adversity through creativity. His production company, Black Man Films, was founded as a reprieve from micro aggressions that plague the entertainment industry. The company’s first film, Silent Partner, discusses Black male mental health in the workplace and confronts the narrative of the “angry Black man.”
By spreading awareness about mental health and other important issues facing the Black community, Lawrence is increasing representation while simultaneously helping to prevent the disastrous effects of brokenness that commonly lead to stories like Turner’s.
With Lawrence fully committed to his role as a complicated adversary, TINA is a stunning musical portrayal of a life of courage, tenacity and survival. It is an ode to Turner’s triumph; it is her story – told in her own, beautiful way. .