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Tina–The Tina Turner Musical: Looking Back (and Ahead) With Tina’s Friend and Collaborator Tali Pelman

Simply, she was the best. Tina Turner, pop star, icon, survivor. And now her story, as told in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical and already a Broadway and West End smash hit, is set to take to the road in the UK, the place the singer chose to launch her solo career back in the Eighties and where she took her first steps on the road to global stardom.

As the eighth production of Tina — The Tina Turner Musical prepares to get underway, it’s in good company. Directed by Phyllidia Lloyd, with a book written by Katori Hall, Tina premiered at London’s Aldwych Theatre on April 17, 2018. A Broadway production opened the following year and further productions opened in Hamburg (2019), Utrecht (2020), Madrid (2021) and Sydney (2023) as well as a US Tour, in 2022.

 

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Launching the UK and Ireland tour, the first since the death of the legendary singer on May 24th, 2023, at age 83, is a very special moment for producer Tali Pelman, who has gathered the UK’s national media in London’s prestigious Radio Rooftop for the occasion. Her delight at being able to continue to share her friend’s legacy is barely concealed.

Later, as the army of journalists, influencers and bloggers, by now fueled up on champagne and canapés, disperses in the direction of the Aldwych Theatre where actress Karis Anderson awaits, ready to embody the Queen of Rock in the original West End production, Pelman takes a moment to reflect on her own relationship with the superstar–and to recall their first meeting, when she visited the singer at her home in Zurich a decade ago.

It was a meeting that started with Turner assuring Pelman that any show about her life was just was not going to happen. By the end of the evening, however, everything had changed. Relaxing with rooftop views of the River Thames and London’s skyline stretching behind her, Pelman remembers the amazing woman she was “blessed” to call a friend.

 

Tina the Musical producer Tia Pelman speaking with the media prior to the launch of the play’s UK and Ireland Tour. Photo: Liam Rudden

“I met her through the show,” she reveals, admitting it was a huge day for someone who had been a fan since she was teenager. “You might think it would be overwhelming. After all, they do say, ‘Be careful when you meet your heroes …’ But for some reason, and I can’t say why, I felt very relaxed and at home with Tina from that first evening when my co-producer and I met her to pitch the idea for this show. From the start I felt really at ease with her, and from then on we had countless conversations whether in person, around the table or on the phone. I would see her often and she became a very dear precious friend, which is my blessing.”

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Warm as the welcome was as they arrived to make their pitch, Tina’s assertion that, “It ain’t happening,” before discussions had even begun must have unnerved Pelman a little. But then it was her dream to bring the story of how this woman, then in her 40s had called out and proved ageist music industry executives wrong to become one of the world’s most iconic stars.

Pelman recalls, “I was immediately struck by how forthright and honest Tina was, she was straight as a die. There was no fuss, no pomp, she just called it as she saw it. We had hours and hours of conversation that first night and I think two elements changed her mind and convinced her to do the musical with us.

 

The Ike and Tina Turner Revue as depicted in the show. Pelman promised it would depict Ike as a “three-dimensional character” despite his years of brutal abuse.

 

“The first was, we promised Tina we wouldn’t gloss over the difficult parts of her story and then, secondly, we had a long conversation about Ike Turner and promised that however brutal a person he had been, and however brutal their marriage was, a marriage of domestic abuse for 16 years, he would be portrayed as a three dimensional character too. We were intent on that. I think that honesty was not something she necessarily expected from a producer coming to pitch to her.”

Ike Turner and promised that however brutal a person he had been, and however brutal their marriage was, a marriage of domestic abuse for 16 years, he would be portrayed as a three dimensional character too

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Tina — The Tina Turner Musical is more than just another jukebox musical, it’s a show that carries a message of hope and triumph over adversity. It charts the life of the singer from her humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock, a lively child enthusiastically singing hymns in her Tennessee church, through being discovered by Ike Turner, rising to fame in The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, becoming a mother and enduring 16 years of domestic abuse before escaping Ike’s tyranny. It culminates with her reinvention and return to the stage in Eighties’ Britain where, as her solo career took off, her journey to becoming a global superstar began.

 

A scene from Tina’s early years in Nutbush, Tennessee. From the London theatrical production.

 

“I’m an Eighties’ child so I grew up with her music of that period, those iconic anthems that she recorded in the UK as a solo artist,” replies Pelman, when asked about her own early memories of discovering Turner’s music. “’What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ was such powerful listening as a teenager. As I got older, I also got into the work she did before with Ike, songs like ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Nutbush’ … those extraordinary R&B singles. I was and am 100% a fan.”

 

Better than all the rest. From the London production.

 

Pelman was too young to see Turner’s film-stealing turn as Aunty Entity in the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdomehen when it was released in cinemas, but the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It?, starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishbourne as Ike and Tina, left a definite impression on her.

“I’m only 45, born in 1975, so I missed out on opportunities of seeing things like Thunderdome. But I do remember watching What’s Love Got To Do With It?, which immediately became one of my favorite films. It was such an extraordinary story for a woman to overcome so many struggles and to then reach such heights. That was something incredibly moving.”

Every moment in Tina — The Tuna Turner Musical leads a step closer to the moment the singer takes back control of her life and career. Having survived the breakup of both her personal and professional partnerships, her return to doing what she loved on her own terms is central to the show’s success.

 

“[Tina’s] return to doing what she loved on her own terms is central to the show’s success.” From the London stage production.

 

“I see this part of her story as a third chapter in her life, because when Tina relaunched her career in the UK, she sky-rocketed with the Private Dancer album and tour. However, while she was promoting these amazing solo tours that she did around the world, as well as her record-breaking concerts in Brazil, journalists would still continually ask about the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and if she would ever play with Ike again.

“On the back of that, she felt she had to, at some point, explain why she had left and what had really happened. Nobody knew. So after she had achieved this solo stardom, came this third chapter in her life in which she uniquely revealed the difficulties she’d had. Remember, at that point stars did not reveal the truth about their lives in the way they do today. She was one of the very first to be honest and open about what she had experienced and that was groundbreaking.”

 

“She was one of the very first to be honest and open about what she had experienced and that was groundbreaking.” Photo: Liam Rudden

 

One thing Pelman stresses, however, is that throughout all three chapters of her life, Turner was never anything other than authentic. “She was always the authentic deal, people kept talking about her ‘comeback’, but she never went away. She would tell me, ‘Tali, I didn’t have a comeback. I was always there’.”

So what was it about her that allowed Turner to remain everpresent even in those wilderness years when she was penniless and struggling to raise her children while battling her ex-husband, who had even trademarked her name, his original plan being to replace Bullock with another “Tina Turner’” if ever she left him.

“I believe several things made her the universal star she became,” offers Pelman. “The songs she chose with her then manager Roger Davies were exceptional. Those songs, a mix of pop and rock perfectly suited her voice, a voice that remains utterly unique to this day; she had no limits to her incredible range. The other thing that she did, unlike anyone else, was what she gave people at her concerts, she would give them everything. She took every risk for them, she just wanted to connect and be real. She didn’t mind if the make-up slid off her face, she didn’t mind if she was sweating, there was no varnish. She gave everything and audiences recognized that.”

Today, her name, music and legacy are kept alive by Pelman and the many amazing artists who have so brilliantly channelled the spirit of Tina in the musical all around the world, for the producer it is about keeping her promise to the star.

 

“She gave everything, and audiences recognized that.” A scene from the London stage production. Photo: Liam Rudden

 

Recalling a conversation they had when both knew Turner was ill, Pelman smiles a sad smile. “She asked me, ‘You’re still doing it?’ and I replied, ‘There’s no end, lady.’ So she knew. Indeed, I am still very close to Erwin Bach, her husband, and we all know there is no stopping me with this show. I have a tremendous team who are just as devoted as I am to ensuring Tina‘s story keeps getting told. I’ve been producing shows for almost 25 years now and stories like hers don’t come around very often.”

 

“Stories like hers don’t come around very often.” London’s Aldwych Theatre marquee. Photo Liam Rudden

 

And on the off chance that Turner might just be looking down now on us now, as we talk about her, “What would she say?” I wonder.

Pelman thinks for a moment before her face breaks into a huge smile, “I think she’d be laughing,” she beams. “She’d be laughing at me.”

 

Liam Rudden is an award-winning playwright, broadcaster and commentator on the arts. With more than 40