Tina Turner is a living legend who needs no introduction. That was certainly the case for Ari Groover, a Broadway veteran who DJs under the name Ari Grooves.
“Being a DJ, she is part of my musical life and background,” Groover told the Union Progress. “Besides knowing the music, we all know the story.”
The 83-year-old Turner went through a lot to earn her status as one of the most celebrated American artists of all time. In 2019, all the highs and lows she experienced on her road to superstardom were immortalized when “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” made its Broadway debut. Star Adrienne Warren earned a best performance by a leading actress in a musical Tony for her work as the titular queen of rock ’n’ roll.
Pittsburghers will have a chance to catch “Tina” this week when its national tour sets up shop at Downtown’s Benedum Center Tuesday-Sunday. Tickets to every showing are still available via trustarts.org.
The Union Progress caught up with Groover, one of a few Tinas on this tour, and Garrett Turner, who plays her controversial ex-husband Ike Turner, to discuss what yinzers can expect from this depiction of how Tina Turner made it to the very top of her field.
“It is a rock ’n’ roll, raging story of perseverance and being triumphant,” Groover said. “To see this legend become the global icon that she is, it is really the phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Groover is an Atlanta native who has been living in New York City for the past decade “doing this wonderful thing called musical theater.” She joined the tour after playing Turner’s sister, Alline Bullock, and understudying Turner herself in “Tina” on Broadway.
The original Broadway cast of “Tina” got to meet Turner before the show’s opening night, Groover said. Though she wasn’t among them at the time, Turner gave her castmates advice that “eases a little bit of the expectations” Groover inherently feels while portraying the world-famous singer on stage.
“She loves originality, and she is always telling us, ‘You’re telling my story, but you’re also being yourself,’” Groover said. “She’s very adamant about us not pretending to be her, but us trying to tell the story with our most authentic selves and how we relate to her.”
“Tina” chronicles Turner’s life from her childhood in rural Tennessee to her tumultuous relationship with Ike to her inimitable solo career. Garrett Turner — no relation to either Tina or Ike — has the unenviable task of embodying Ike Turner, a musical savant arguably more well known for the alleged abuses he inflicted upon Tina during their marriage.
Garrett is a Florence, Ala., native who has been working in the musical theater space since 2014. He acknowledges that Ike is “certainly the villain of our story,” but it’s his goal every night to bring the “fullness of his personhood and manhood” to his performances. He mentioned that a theatergoer recently came up to him after a show and told him that “you made me feel sorry for the little boy inside of Ike,” which warmed Turner’s heart.
“Ike was a real person,” he said. “And that is so grounding to me in being able to play this character. I get to ask real questions about how he became the person who he was and why he made the decisions that led him to this space of being known for this particular kind of volatility.”
It takes a lot of trust between performers to act out some of the more harrowing scenes that Tina and Ike share. Groover said that she and Turner have “established a connection and language” to check in with each other to make sure everyone is OK during the show’s more difficult moments.
The heavier elements of Tina Turner’s life are at least partially balanced out by the exuberance of her discography. “Tina” is a jukebox musical at heart that features enduring tunes like “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” “The Best,” “Nutbush City Limits” and “River Deep — Mountain High.”
Nobody would describe Ike as a particularly fun part, but Garrett Turner said he does enjoy making Ike’s entrance while singing the 1951 rock ’n’ roll classic “Rocket 88.” He hopes that number coming at a point when Ike “hasn’t done anything horrible” yet endears the audience to his character before he becomes the key reason Tina’s story, in his mind, ends up ultimately being “about the liberation from violence.”
For Groover, it’s viewers’ reaction to “The Best” that always tells her whether “this is a dancing crowd” or not. As the self-described “daredevil of the group,” she always makes a point to imbue her Tina with an infectiously boisterous energy.
“I try to bring a joyous Tina despite us talking about the trials throughout the show, the abuse and all that stuff,” she said. “I at least want to make sure that people see the wonderful human that Tina was.”
Neither Groover nor Turner have ever performed in the Steel City before. When asked to provide a pitch for why Pittsburghers should check out “Tina” this week, Garrett Turner gave a pretty irrefutable answer given the figure at the center of this touring production.
“I don’t need to give a pitch, because Tina don’t need no pitch,” he said. “Tina Turner is the everything, the end all and the be all right there. … That’s just who Tina is.”