Why Tina Is “The Best”: Performer Roz White Talks History, Music and Finding Oneself in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

The Inspiring Story of the “Queen of Rock N’ Roll” Is Told in the Celebrated Musical Coming to San Jose August 29-September 3
Garrett Turner as Ike Turner and Roz White as Zelma Bullock in the North American touring production of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Tina Turner is a name that evokes greatness. It’s a name that is celebrated in the world of music, as one of the world’s bestselling artists ever with hits like “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, “The Best”, and “Proud Mary”. Her voice and her songs are instantly recognizable, and with the upcoming Tina – The Tina Turner Musical coming August 29–September 3, 2023 to San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts, audiences will get to know the incredible story of her life and resilience.

To get to know her is to first know that Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock, and before Bullock became the powerful, soulful singer who won 12 Grammys and sold 100 million records, she was just a young girl growing up in Tennessee, picking cotton for work and singing in the church choir. Her incredible story starts here, and is told through the musical alongside her greatest hits, energetically and emotionally revealing the human being behind the voice, behind the legend and behind the music.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak to actor and singer Roz White, who plays Turner’s mother Zelma Bullock in the show. In the following interview White breaks down how Tina – The Tina Turner Musical takes the story of Anna Mae Bullock and creates a vivid, musical biography of her journey to becoming the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll”, all while touching on topics of escaping from abusive relationships, finding oneself and how the show relates to White’s own life and experiences.

Hello Roz, thanks for the time. To start off, how the reaction has been so far on the tour?

It’s been amazing. The audience is really enthusiastic. They love the show, they love Tina, and they are really happy about the way that we’re telling the story. So we’re really happy.

Just from having the name Tina Turner in the title, you would assume that the show is going to be one of passionate, energetic performances. Could touch on how the show chooses to tell the story of Tina Turner?

Absolutely. This is a unique musical in that it’s not like other jukebox musicals where you kind of just go from song to song without a real storyline. It is the story of her life starting about age ten when her mother made the decision to leave with her older sister because of an abusive relationship with their father and go to St. Louis to find a better life.

She chose to leave Tina, who was born Anna Mae Bullock, behind because she was a child who had a lot of energy and liked to sing out and was not easily told to be quiet and well behaved. So she made the decision to leave and she also felt that she just didn’t connect, unfortunately, with her younger daughter. And she went to St. Louis and left Anna Mae to be raised by her grandmother.

Well, Tina grew up under her grandmother and her grandmother helped her discover and hone her voice and then when she was ailing sent Tina to live with her mother. She was still Anna Mae at the time. She goes to live with her mother in St. Louis and then in a few weeks meets Ike Turner and becomes a part of his band and becomes a star within a matter of months.

Then a very abusive relationship, of course happens between her and Ike. And she spends 16 years enduring that abuse but also traveling the world as a star, becoming the Tina Turner. And then she breaks free from him and goes on with her life to develop her own career as a solo artist. And she also endures hardship through that, but she endures and then she becomes the superstar that we know. And when we finally tell her story and her success, we get to the end where we get to see this amazing concert. So it’s just an amazing show. It’s an amazing show. You get a full experience of her life and how hard it must have been and also how strong she was.

Can you talk about what the auditioning process was like and what your reaction was to getting the part of Zelma Bullock?

This journey began for me in August of 2021 when I started to get some emails and calls from the casting agency looking for the role of Zelma Bullock, Tina Turner’s mother. So I submitted a tape and then I didn’t hear anything for a while, but then over the course of the next few months, I obtained an agent, they submitted me for the same role and voila, all of a sudden, here I am being called for auditions.

I went for three, and after the third one, I was offered the role of Zelma. And I’ve been out on the road for a year now playing this amazing role. I’ve been practicing my Spanish, interpreto a la madre de un ícono! I play the mother of an icon – and it is a beautiful experience. It helps me to heal from my own mother’s passing just in November of 2021 and through this role I get to heal some of those things that mothers and daughters go through. It’s a very complicated relationship, and so I just feel very honored. And every day is a new experience. I get to work with amazing, talented people who are really committed to telling this story.

In terms of stepping into the shoes of this role, how much did you go into the history of the real Zelma and what kinds of things did you discover from researching?

A lot of research was done via documentary and from reading Tina’s autobiography, I, Tina. Prior to getting this role, I grew up on Tina Turner’s music. I was about 14 when she put out Private Dancer, and so that became like a staple in the household, that album. Just seeing her come from what my grandparents knew, from her being just from Ike and Tina to the iconic status of Tina Turner.

So I had a lot of that music already in my head and in my heart, but I saw the movie What’s Love Got to Do with It And I saw Jennifer Lewis’ portrayal of Zelma, and that really started the foundation of me wanting to know more about her. Reading the book, I, Tina come to find out that Zelma was a smoker from age ten and had a rough life, picked cotton and had to clean homes and was not allowed to be a soft, feminine woman at that time in the 40s & 50s. So she moved to a place where she could wear pretty dresses and where she could be at a higher status. So I did study all of those nuances and I also studied what it might look like for her progression of age.

She died at age 84. So I have to do age makeup for my final scene and just those kinds of things. The real detailed work that makes people notice that you put a lot into character. And I also met a couple of family members since we’ve been out on tour and they gave me some amazing compliments that I really have captured her vocal cadence and her personality. So I feel really solid that I’ve done the research for this role.

Do you have any aspects of the show, any particular song or moment in the show that is your personal favorite?

Absolutely. And it’s really been from the beginning. The sequence that leads up to the performance number of “What’s Love Got to Do with It” is my favorite part of the show. It brings all of the elements that we are doing in the show together. For instance, the young Anna Mae appears sort of as an apparition along with her grandmother Georgeanna, to help her through this difficult moment of being strong for this showcase that she has to perform to get the major record deal that made her the star that she is.

And so in this moment, all of those ancestors come together, give her strength, even transform her look, so that she becomes [Tina] with the blonde hair and the whole thing, they get to crown her and it’s amazing. And I’m actually backstage preparing for the mother’s death scene during that time. So every cast member, every crew member that can comes over and gives me a little bit of encouragement or just plays with me or says something funny so that the scene doesn’t feel so heavy going in because it’s a heavy scene and by the end, we’re all blubbering in tears. That’s my favorite part of the show, the “What’s Love Got to Do with It” sequence because it’s the best musical theater I’ve seen in a long time.

They take an actual pop rock song and make it musical theater by interweaving the story of Tina and her husband Erwin and how they fell in love and had to put their love on hold so that she could be stronger and know that this was the right decision. He’s 16 years younger, so it’s a beautiful sequence of Tina coming into herself. So that is definitely my favorite part of the show.

Finally, why would you recommend audiences come see Tina – The Tina Turner Musical?

I believe that Tina’s story is the universal story of perseverance and it’s a great American story. We’re talking about a young girl who at age 9-10, picked cotton with her family in rural Tennessee, but grew to become a global icon. If that’s not reason enough, then let’s talk about the music.

The music is amazing, and if you want to have a good time and have some really good memories and actually become aware of some of the steps that people need to take to free themselves from abusive relationships because it really starts within.

There’s so many reasons, but those are the major reasons because of Tina’s story, because of the music and because of the message that we can get out of these bad situations if we just go within and get the help that we need.

More information and tickets are available at broadwaysanjose.com.

Spanish Photo Caption 1: Naomi Rodgers como Tina Turner en la producción en gira norteamericana de Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022

English Pull Quote: “I’ve been practicing my Spanish, interpreto a la madre de un ícono! I play the mother of an icon – and it is a beautiful experience.”

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