Reaching stardom later in life: Tina Turner musical chronicles life of rock icon

Broadway national tour has local premiere April 9-14.



Tina Turner, the empowering, vibrant Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, didn’t reach superstardom until she was 43. She was nearly 70 when she launched her final tour in North America and Europe. Age was just a number to the influential artist, whose troubled life and legendary career provides the dramatic, uplifting and incredibly tuneful foundation for “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical,” receiving its local premiere April 9-14 at the Schuster Center courtesy of Dayton Live’s Premier Health Broadway Series.

Rising to amazing heights as a bankable worldwide star and sex symbol during her senior years made Turner a rare commodity in the entertainment industry, but it also spoke to her determination and grit to succeed at all costs. Once she decided to leave her abusive husband Ike in 1976, escaping her Dallas hotel room with only 36 cents and a credit card, there was no turning back.

“She had an entire career — 16 years with Ike — where she wasn’t making a dime,” said Roz White, who portrays Zelma Bullock, Turner’s prickly, stern mother. “She got to wear some cute clothes but he never paid her. She didn’t have the benefits of the fruits of her labor. By the time she was in her mid-40s, she had to stay sexy, she had to stay strong, she had to stay visible and be somebody who could be a symbol in order to make her money. Sometimes we have to keep working. I just had my 600th show with ‘Tina,’ but I know what it’s like to still have dreams and goals that haven’t worked out yet because that’s just the (nature of the) business.”



White, whose touring and regional credits include “Dreamgirls,” “The Amen Corner” and “Seven Guitars,” praises Turner for having the confidence to step out of her comfort zone in her prime. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she recalls the reactions among the Black community in response to Turner’s transformation circa her 1984 platinum album “Private Dancer.”

“Tina was willing to ditch one look for a totally different look,” she explained. “I remember the older women in my life wondering why she was wearing blonde spiky hair and short skirts in her 40s. They wanted her to go and sit down somewhere. But Tina had to do it. It was her destiny. She also knew she had to continue to do it well into her 60s so people could see that it could be done.”

The early years

Born Anna Mae Bullock and raised in rural Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner had a rough childhood. She was the youngest daughter of Floyd, a sharecropper overseer, and Zelma. In 1950, when Turner was 11, Zelma unexpectedly left the family due to Floyd’s abusive behavior, relocating to St. Louis. At 16, Turner joined her mother after the death of her grandmother and would eventually meet Ike one fateful night at Club Manhattan.

“Zelma is a very complex character, but she’s important because we often see African American women portrayed in film and on stage as the nurturer; and Zelma was not happy in her situation,” said White, 54. “She did not have the happiness within herself to be a nurturing mother. There was no real bond between Zelma and Tina. I think it’s important to show there are all different kinds of women and all different kinds of mothers. And no matter what kind of mother, the relationship is still important because it defines everything in your life. The choices Zelma made, whether you agree or not, are the choices that allowed Tina a space to come to meet Ike. Pleasant or not, it was a part of her journey.”



White also admires how Turner’s life was the ultimate comeback story of overcoming adversity, breaking barriers and pushing through pain.

“Tina didn’t do anything calculated,” she said. “She literally lived her life. Her life was so full. She didn’t allow her circumstances to keep her in Nutbush or allow her circumstances to keep her with Ike longer than she needed to. It was an over 50-year journey for her to become an icon.”

The icon

Staged by Tony Award nominee Phyllida Lloyd — best known for directing the films “Mamma Mia!” and “The Iron Lady” — “Tina” features over 20 classics, including “Nutbush City Limits,” “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” to name a few. The magnitude of Turner’s timeless catalog, especially among her legion of fans, continues to energize the cast. Ari Groover and Zurin Villanueva notably share the titular role as well.

“There’s something about a show when the curtain goes up and you only see a woman standing in front of a staircase and the crowd goes nuts. And she hasn’t opened her mouth. That is power,” White said. “And that kind of power doesn’t happen overnight. And Tina’s power is still present with us even after her physical presence has left, which is huge. She’s more than a name.”



Turner, a best-selling performer and author (”I, Tina”) who sold more than 100 million records, was the recipient of eight Grammys, the Kennedy Center Honors, and two inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame among other accolades. She passed away on May 24, 2023, at age 83 in her home in Switzerland near Lake Zurich, but her legacy as an inspiration to generations of women will forever stand as a testament of her being simply the best.

“Tina did what she did so I could have a chance to do what I want to do in my 50s,” White said. “She also (inspires) the young women I’m on stage with who are in their 40s, 30s and 20s. We also have a couple of 10-year-olds with us. It’s all about legacy.”


What: “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical”

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton

When: April 9-14; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $29-$119

More info: 937-228-3630 or

FYI: Join Dayton Live 60 minutes before each performance for Background on Broadway. Patrons will learn about the development, history and artistry of the show. This free event is held in the Schuster Center’s Fourth Floor Lobby. You must have a ticket to that day’s performance.

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