Emmie Newitt

Interview with Okezie Morro, TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL

Want to find out more about one of the most important characters in the TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL? Read our interview with Okezie Morro who plays Ike Turner in the West End production.

okezie morro ike turnerOkezie Morro

Step into music history with TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL which currently plays at the Aldwych Theatre. The musical, which has been a huge hit since it opened back in 2018 - tells the story of Tina Turner through an unforgettable production. One of the people who made a huge impact on her journey was Ike Turner and we have an interview with Okezie Morro who explains what it's like to play this complicated character.

You play the role of Ike Turner in the West End production of TINA, can you tell us a little bit about him..

Ike Turner was, first of all, a complicated man, but I would put a positive on it firstly and say he was a musical genius, a musical icon, a super talented musician who had no kind of training and just kind of saw someone I think it was playing the keys one day or playing the piano, or someone had a piano, and he just wanted to learn how to do it. He got taught a little bit of how to do it and then he picked up the rest himself and then, you know, he was great. Then he saw that the guitar was in at the time, and that's what got all the girls, so he learned how to play the guitar and that's kind of how he started with music. He just gravitated towards it naturally.

The complication comes via his backstory. He was abused as a child (6-12), which not many people know, by people close in his community or older (around 50 years old) women. It was a difficult childhood. He saw his mum and dad split up, he saw his mum get beaten by his stepdad and he almost ended up killing his stepdad one day because of this and because he took beatings from his stepdad as well. So he hit him with an object and ran away from the house and stayed away for a week and thought he was dead. So it was a really troubled and complicated beginning to his life. I believe those early incidents also shaped his attitudes towards women and the later in life outcomes. It was the abuse of Tina, the abuse of her physically, which is the dark side of him. So overall a truly complicated man.

What gravitated you towards this production in particular?

I knew about this show from when it first came out. I knew it was a great show from what I had heard. I'd never done a musical before but when this opportunity came around, I thought, well, why not audition, let's see what happens. It was a lengthy audition process and, like I said, it was my first musical, so it was incredibly challenging, but I really enjoyed the process more than I thought I would. The script is incredible, the music is incredible and the role of Ike Turner is incredible. So there were a lot of positives there and that was it for me.

TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL is a fantastic show that tells the story of Tina Turner, what is it like to be a performer telling this story, especially with Ike’s character in particular?

I think for me telling the story, it feels like I'm in something of great importance and great urgency, even though she was in her heyday in the 70s and 80s, it's still so relevant to today, especially as Tina just passed away. It covers some of the troubling issues that we had in the past with post-segregation, the American South, the difficulties down there in race relations, and trouble with the police. We still have all this stuff going on today so it's so relevant and being able to step into the shoes of Ike was is a real challenge because of the character.

Because the man was, bipolar, he took drugs, he was the music side of it, so I have to emulate him playing the guitar and sing these amazing songs, I just get challenged so much every day. Sometimes when I think I've hit something, the challenge is, can I hit it again? Or can I try something different that still gets where I want it to go? There's always something. It's always a challenge. So I never get bored up there. It's hard work every day but I thrive on that so, for me, it's very special to be able to step into his shoes and help tell the story of this great icon, Tina Turner, and how she came to be and how Ike was part of what shaped her. That's just a blessing to me.

Before doing this production, did you listen to a lot of Tina’s music or know a lot about her life?

Before doing this I didn't sit down and listen to loads of her music because I already knew so much of it. A lot of these songs are ones you grew up hearing them. I think there are 1 or 2 I wasn't as familiar with, but most of it I already knew. I knew a little bit about her life. I didn't know the full impact of Ike and what his impact on her had been. I knew what everyone knows about the violence, especially after the film What's Love Got To Do With It and Tina’s autobiography came out. I think that's what intrigued me to delve into Ike's background, especially because as I was going to play him. I read his autobiography and I learned a lot more from his side, his perspective, because obviously this story is told from Tina's perspective. So I wanted to get some balance for playing Ike. Now being immersed in it, I’ve learnt and know so much more and I'm still learning stuff every day.

What makes TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL a brilliant production to go and watch in the West End?

TINA –The Tina Turner the Musical is such an incredible musical, because it's not just a standard kind of go there and listen to a few songs and clap along type of musical. It's a story and it's a powerful journey that you get taken on from the start. From her beginnings in Nutbush, as a small child, all the way to her success when she really hit the big time. I think the ins and outs of that journey shows you how formidable of a person she was and what she had to deal with and what she had to, to get to the point of what she called success. I think it's so powerful, the journey that you get taken on, which is unusual for a musical, and that's what makes TINA – The Tina Turner Musical stand out because it's just so brilliant. On top of that you have the songs, of course, that kind of just intersect, but the way it's written by Katori Hall and the way the story weaves with the music is just beautiful. It's rare in musical theatre to get that. So I think actually, it's a play with songs, but it's beautifully done.

okezie morro ike turnerOkezie Morro as Ike Turner in TINA: The Tina Turner Musical

This musical contains her much loved songs, so what is your favourite Tina Turner song?

I actually think my favourite Tina song before we did this production was Proud Mary, just because of how unusual the arrangement is in terms of having that bass with the man's voice / Ike's voice, against Tina's voice at the beginning and it's quite slow tempo before it then just ramps up and that's that. I think it's just such a brilliant song. Some of the others, obviously Simply the Best, River Deep and so on are almost the obvious kind of party classics, which are all great. But I think for me Proud Mary is my personal favourite which is amazing because now I get to perform it every night.

What has been your favourite memory of working on this show so far?

I think my favourite memory of working on the show so far is just when I take my bows and the curtain call. I think when you get the response from the audience, or whether it's me personally getting booed as Ike or getting cheered, as long as we have some sort of reaction from 1200 people, it just blows me away every single time. It means we've done something, we've affected the audience in a way for them to respond and it's never lacklustre. It's usually some sort of response – either they hate Ike, because of what he's done or the way I'm portraying him or they can appreciate the performance. So it means I'm doing something right, it's very humbling.

If you could play a different character, who would you choose and why?

If I were a woman, it would be Tina, no doubt about it. That part is incredible, just from an actor's perspective, I think I'd have to work on my singing to get to that level, but I would love to play that part, it’s iconic. That's the Hamlet, if you like, for a woman, a black woman. It's very rare to have a part so complex, so interesting, so dynamic and so challenging. So, of course, it would be Tina.

Other than Tina Turner, which other music artist do you think would make a great focus in a musical format?

I'm not sure. I'd have to have a lot longer to think about that.

Why should people book tickets to see TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL?

People should book tickets to come and see TINA – The Tina Turner Musical because it's amazing and it may even change your life. It's that good. It's such a powerful story of this woman and of course the music is beautiful. Even if you know the music, you may not know the story and it's a roller coaster and it's going to hit you. There are some great performances too, so I think it's one not to be missed. It’s one of the best musicals/shows in the West End right now.

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