TINA – The Tina Turner Musical

The Advance interviews Sarah Bockel who plays Tina Turner’s long-time friend and road manager Rhonda Graam in this musical playing through April 7 at Altria Theater in Richmond.

Broadway In Richmond is bringing TINA – The Tina Turner Musical to the Altria theater for a limited five-day run starting on April 2nd. FBXG Advance talked to Sarah Bockel who plays Tina’s long-time friend and road manager Rhonda Graam about the touring production and Graam’s special relationship with Turner.

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Altria Theater, 6 North Laurel Street, Richmond
Apr. 2 to Apr. 7. Tickets are $35-$93.50
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FXBG Advance: Most people know the basic story of Tina Turner who escaped an abusive relationship with her husband Ike and then became a superstar in midlife. What will the audience learn about her from this musical? 

Sarah Bockel: You will see Tina’s unstoppable hope on display when she had every single thing against her. This woman became a pop star in her late 40’s. It’s never been seen ever, and I would argue hasn’t been seen since; this amount of success in mid-life I think is just incredible and inspiring. That’s only one part of her story. Not only did she come out of an abusive childhood into an abusive marriage, left him but then just be crushed with all the legal fees that he sent her. He owned her; he owned everything she created. I don’t know how anybody comes out of that. We talk about this a lot in rehearsals; she had this relentless positivity. She never ever stopped thinking that she could get out of it. I think that’s the most important thing the audience could take away. No matter how bad your situation is, there’s always a way. 

FXBG Advance: How does the Tina Turner musical approach such a large-scale story?

SB: The musical starts right before she is going on stage in Rio de Janeiro. It’s like 130,000 people are out there; it’s her biggest crowd that she’s ever had at the height of her fame. It’s the Private Dancer tour. Right before she goes on stage she sits down and starts chanting. In the chanting it goes to the beginning of her life, and she is remembering everything that got her up to this moment. And then the show is bookended by her going on stage in Rio. The way it’s inspired and written is she sees her life in the blink of an eye. So it’s kind of a memory play. As you’re whooshed from scene to scene, you see slashes of really big important memories in her life. I think it’s a really smart device that we use. It starts with her as a kid with her grandmother picking cotton as sharecroppers, her mother leaving her father, all the steps that added up to getting to that moment. 

FXBG Advance: It must have been hard to find an actor with the voice, acting chops, and look to portray Tina.

SB: We have two Tinas; they split the week. This is, in my opinion, one of the hardest roles on Broadway in music theater. Trying to recreate Tina Turner singing something like 24 songs, really 24 eleven o’clock numbers back to back the way Tina sings. And dancing like Tina danced which is like you’re on fire and in stilettos and doing fight choreography getting slapped to the ground and being put through her life in three hours every night. Our creative team very smartly thought that on the road that would be way too much for just one person. So we split it, and we have two incredible women and two incredible understudies as well that go on, so they can give everything they can every night and then have a night completely off to rest. The vocals are so incredible, the presence, the humor, the joy; it’s all there with each and every one. It took them a really long time to find these women. I just think they’re all such stars, and after this I can’t wait to see what they all do next. It’s going to be incredible. 

FXBG Advance: Your character Rhonda was one of Tina’s biggest supporters early in her career. 

SB: The core of her; the bond she and Tina had is the heart of the show. She never left Tina. In the musical she gets fired, which is what happened, but what we don’t say is that Rhonda stayed on as Tina’s assistant for her whole career. So they were together for their whole adult lives. 

In the background making sure she was okay; she helped with her two boys a lot, kind of raising them. She definitely was not a fan of Ike Turner. You can see that in the Tina documentary on HBO, it’s one of my favorite things you can watch about her.