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Photo: Manuel Harlan
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Simply the best

From Anna to Tina and the queen of rock and roll

Tina Turner is one of the biggest names in rock’n’roll history. From a young girl growing up in Brownsville, Tennessee, Turner became one of the greatest performers of all time. Her story is now being told on the Australian stage. Producer Tali Pelman shared the production’s story with The AJN.

Main image by Photo: Manuel Harlan

Have you heard of Anna Mae Bullock? Perhaps not. While little Anna Mae loved to sing and entertain those around her, it wasn’t until age 20 that she truly took on her musical persona, becoming Tina Turner.

But according to the queen of rock’n’roll, she continues to hold tight to that little girl. “I’m Anna Mae, and I’m also Tina,” she told Harvard Business Review early last year. “They’re two sides of my personality, two facets of my life. Anna Mae is the homebody side and loves peace and quiet and privacy, and Tina is the artistic side and loves all kinds of artistic expression. I’m sure aspects of Anna have merged with Tina and vice versa.”

While the singer was in the spotlight for a fair few decades, in 2021, Turner announced to her fans that she would be stepping back from the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean her story is disappearing. In fact, far from it.

In 2016, it was revealed that a biographical musical about Turner’s life was already in development. By 2018, it had debuted on London’s West End and by 2019, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical had reached Broadway.

In May, the musical will hit Australian shores.

Produced by Teg Dainty in special collaboration with Stage Entertainment, Tali Pelman and Turner, the musical reveals a comeback story like no other, of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race to become the global queen of rock’n’roll. Tina is a celebration of resilience and an inspiration of triumph over adversity.

Pelman, who was born in Tel Aviv, said she has always loved theatre, cutting her teeth as a young producer in London in her 20s. It was Pelman who convinced Turner to allow the musical to go ahead.

“When I first met Tina, she was openly and resolutely not in favour of making a musical! But over dinner at her home one evening in Switzerland, I and Joop van den Ende [co-producer] convinced her to start this journey with us,” Pelman told The AJN ahead of the Sydney premiere. “I think what made Tina change her mind is that we promised to be true to her story. Actually, I made two promises that night – the second being not to take her out of retirement, which I didn’t quite keep, as Tina became deeply involved in the process of telling her story on stage. That was our blessing, and one of the reasons the show feels so authentic.”

One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows have been seen by millions; she has sold more concert tickets than any other solo performer in music history. When she was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, Turner became one of only three women in the institution’s history to be inducted twice, after initially being inducted in 1991, alongside Ike Turner.

Turner’s connection to Australia was enriched when Australian manager Roger Davies agreed to manage her career after seeing her perform in San Francisco.

Davies was the one who persuaded Turner to record What’s Love Got To Do With It, convinced that it was going to be a hit. Turner’s semi-autobiographical song Nutbush City Limits spent a year in the top 100 chat in 1973 and she has toured the country a number of times. In 1985, Turner starred in the iconic Australian film, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, releasing her subsequent hit We Don’t Need Another Hero. Then of course, as Pelman noted, there’s the connection with the NRL.

“We have been honoured and moved by the very special connection Tina has to Australia. That has been evident from the start in so many ways,” she said. “From the fans who have visited us in London and on Broadway, of course her manager Roger Davies, and the role the anthem (Simply) The Best played for the NRL.”

It’s something Turner has, herself, acknowledged in a special message to fans when it was announced that the production would be coming to Australia.

“Hello Sydney! I am so excited to be announcing that Tina – The Tina Turner Musical will be opening in Sydney next year,” she said. “Australia has always shared abundant love with me, going back to my early concerts in the late ’70s through the uplifting partnership with the National Rugby League. It is very special for me that we will be reunited. The joy, passion and message of resilience in my musical is so important now as ever. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for welcoming me with open arms once again.”

Photo: Manuel Harlan

While Turner’s life has certainly had some ups and downs, the musical shows just how resilient she was and continues to be.

Turner explained to Harvard Business Review that she took things “day by day” and that she enjoyed “invincible optimism”.

“I always knew that the ‘what’ was more important than the ‘how’. In other words, although I had a hard time seeing how I could make my dreams come true, I focused more on what I wanted to achieve in my life, personally and professionally,” she said.

And she certainly achieved what she set out to do.

As Pelman says, Turner’s power is by example.

“Her story not only encourages us to pursue our dreams but empowers us to overcome what may feel like insurmountable challenges. And she does it with generosity, humour and grace. She remains completely grounded and that makes her utterly inspirational.”

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical rolls into Sydney from May 4. For tickets, visit tinathemusical.com.au

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