Actress Roz White Shares Insights About Portraying Tina Turner’s Mother in the Electrifying Musical
The Broadway in Austin touring production about superstar Tina Turner comes to Bass Concert Hall January 9-13
Actress Roz White has been belting out songs on Broadway for 40 years. She has been a cast member in more than 200 plays and musicals playing iconic roles such as Effie in the touring company of Dreamgirls, and she’s currently touring dozens of cities with Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, as Zelma Bullock, Tina’s mother. Ahead of Tina’s stop at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall January 9-13, Tribeza asked White to tell us more about iconic onstage moments, what she’s looking forward to during her first visit to Austin, and how Tina decided how her story should be told.
Tribeza (T): What have been some of the highlights of this tour for you?
Roz White (RW): Definitely LA because our opening night was shortly after Tina Turner’s passing, but it was also the birthday of the legendary Molly Gibbs from The Jeffersons. She turned 92 that day, and she decided to spend her birthday with us, and I got to do the curtain speech that night. And going to Nutbush, (Tennessee) where Tina Turner grew up, seeing her old elementary school and her memorabilia all over the place.
T: Tell me more about visiting Nutbush.
RW: We were performing in Memphis and we got a chance to drive about an hour outside of town. It was a farming community and we got to stand in front of the house where she grew up. And it was just amazing just to see that rural town where she used to run around and make up songs and see where she was living with her mother and her grandmother eventually.
T: How did that experience inform playing Tina’s mother onstage?
RW: It gave me a better perspective of just how simple life was and what Zelma was striving for by leaving (Nutbush for St. Louis). Zelma was trying to get away from that life where career choices would have been being a maid or possibly a school teacher. We’re talking about the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s so for African Americans it was extremely difficult, and she wanted a better life. And (St. Louis is) where Tina started her career with Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm.
T: How do you approach Tina and Zelma’s tough relationship and how do you think about Zelma yourself?
RW: No one is all bad, so there’s got to be some endearing moments, some funny moments. And she was a catalyst for Tina’s success because she gives Tina the the fortitude to keep pushing through and to prove to her mother that she is capable of doing great things. I try to play the humanity of her and not necessarily judge her, but just allow her to breathe and live on the stage and let the audience take from it what they can.
T: What’s one of your favorite moments onstage as Zelma?
RW: When I get to tell Tina to kick Ike’s butt. Usually the audiences are so into it that they yell back, “That’s right!”
T: So much of Tina Turner’s music is beloved. What is the vibe in the theater usually?
RW: From the moment that the curtain goes up and they see that silhouette of Tina they start screaming, and then they are taken on a journey through her life story. Sometimes the audience reacts very viscerally to the situation and sometimes it’s complete silence because they are shocked at what’s happening. But by the end of the show, they are all on their feet, singing along to “Simply the Best” and “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits” and it’s just a beautiful time.
T: Did you have a personal relationship with Tina’s music growing up?
RW: I first heard the Private Dancer album when I was about 14 years old. My grandmother bought the album and I played it over and over again. I learned a lot of the songs and would sing them for company. That was the soundtrack of my teen years and seeing this woman who was in her forties and came in like gangbusters and took the industry by storm was very important to me.
T: You’re coming to Austin for the first time on this tour. What are you looking forward to doing here?
RW: I definitely want to check out the live music scene and hear some great singers and some great bands. I remember hearing that the live music scene in Austin is one of the best.
T: Did Tina herself have any special connections with Texas?
RW: (In a scene in the show set in Dallas, Tina) walks offstage (during a performance) and that leads to the big fight with Ike where she goes to the Best Western and asks for a room for the night and all she has to her name is 36 cents. So Dallas for sure.
T: What else should audience members know about the show?
RW: Prepare to see 26 individuals come together to tell the story of this icon. It’s a wonderful way to hear this amazing story and to be uplifted and encouraged through her story of perseverance, fortitude, and kindness. A lot of times we see artists that step on other people to get to where they have to go and she never did that.
T: Was Tina involved in the creation of the musical?
RW: Absolutely. This is her interpretation. She wanted this tour to happen for her fans in America, because she did move to Switzerland and changed her status to Swiss. She wanted America to know that she was proud of her upbringing and her roots.
Don’t miss seeing Tina: The Tina Turner Musical this January 9–14 at Bass Concert Hall.