Naomi Rodgers discusses portraying icon Tina Turner in the new musical Tina

Tina Turner was a force of nature. The list of musical icons more dynamic than the R&B pop star is short or nonexistent.

So stepping into Tina's shoes (let alone her dresses and wigs) is no easy task. But that's exactly what Naomi Rodgers does in Tina — The Tina Turner Musical, which runs at Spokane's First Interstate Center for the Arts from Sept. 19-24.

The jukebox musical tells Turner's journey from teenage dynamo to 40-year-old superstar — including fame highs and abusive relationship lows — through hits like "I Don't Wanna Fight," "The Best" and "What's Love Got to Do with It." Portraying Tina is so demanding that the touring production double casts the lead so as to not completely wear out the musical's star performers, Naomi Rodgers and Ari Groover.

We caught up with Rodgers to talk about her Tina Turner journey, Beyoncé and a Disney princess.

INLANDER: What's the most fun part about portraying Tina Turner on stage?

RODGERS: The most fun part about doing this role is wearing all the amazing costumes and wigs [laughs]. It just shows the journey of her life, and the journey of what she looked good in, and her age and her transitions from 17 all the way to 40.

Do you have a favorite outfit?

Right now, it is the iconic wig — the spiky blond one with the bangs.

Growing up, what was your first exposure to Turner?

Everybody knows the movie What's Love Got to Do with It with Angela Bassett. I grew up off of that 100 percent. So I'm guilty to say that I only knew Tina Turner from the movie. But the music always stuck with me. "What's Love Got to Do with It" was my favorite, obviously. It's become my favorite now in the show.

The show delves into the abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner. How do you approach those physically and emotionally brutal scenes as an actor?

I think for a while I didn't really understand how to tap into that in the right way. But recently I found a way to feel a lot better in those moments, by understanding the love and the joy that those two did have for each other. You can't take that away, that is the reality of their relationship. There was love, and there were those [abusive] moments.

What's the most difficult aspect of the role?

The dancing and the stamina. I knew I was a fireball, but I think the dancing was something that was unexpected for me. And I was like, "OK, so I have to breathe and sing and dance." The Tinas are singing 21 songs. So you just have to make sure that you are connected to your breath and connected to everything that your body needs you to do so that you can get through and tell the story 100 percent. That's why they need the two of us. It is a lot of fun, and it's a lotta work. And, honestly, that's how Tina lived it.

The show has double-cast leads with you and Ari Groover trading off performances. How is it, being in that atypical theatrical arrangement?

It is, honestly, the smartest thing that they ever could've done for us, because I feel that the role needs to be given 100 percent. Always. This is a real person. So you have two of us, who are two different people with two different styles of thinking and two different outlooks on our Tinas. And I think it is an amazing thing. Other people get the opportunity to be on stage with two different types of Tinas. And also for the audience, people can come back and see the show twice. So that's a lot of fun.

Has music beyond Tina's influenced how you approach the role?

I am a huge, huge Beyoncé fan. So growing up, I used to watch [videos of] her concerts. I remember getting up and dancing, and trying to mimic the moves. That was my thing to the point where, I could listen to a Beyoncé song right now, and I know the dance moves from the concert. And Beyoncé was inspired by Tina Turner, that's where some of her craziness and confidence comes from. So to have that embedded in my brain, and then to go into the room [for Tina] and have them tell me that the last five to 10 minutes of the show, we're gonna do a concert for everybody? I just snap into what I know. It was easy when I learned Tina's moves, because of the confidence that I felt from already knowing Beyoncé and how she moves [laughs].

What is your dream role?

I have been manifesting being Princess Tiana in the live-action The Princess and the Frog movie. It's been a dream of mine, either doing whenever they put it on Broadway or the live-action movie that they're talking about. I've been wanting to do that since it came out.

What do you want people to take away from Tina?

What makes this special is the story of someone who did exactly what they needed to do for themselves and succeeded and won. She was a woman who asked for nothing, and ended up having everything. That is so inspiring and so humbling. She found Buddhism and she found herself and she found the groundedness, and we put that in this musical. That was her safe space. She changed her life with the way that she thinks. People are going to leave with feeling like they can literally do anything that they want to do. ♦

Tina — The Tina Turner Musical • Sept. 19-24, Tue-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sat at 2 pm, Sun at 1 and 6:30 pm • $52-$100 • All ages (recommended for 14+) • First Interstate Center for the Arts • 334 W. Spokane Fall Blvd. •

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Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 26
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...