Exclusive: Nkeki Obi-Melekwe talks final performances of ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ on Broadway

Tina will end its run on Broadway on August 14 before beginning its 30-city national tour in the U.S. in September.

The final curtain call on “Tina—The Tina Turner Musical” on Broadway is set for August 14 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. 

The Broadway production, which first premiered in 2019, has received 12 Tony nominations and made performance appearances on many popular television shows including  “Good Morning America,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” 

Nkeki Obi-Melekwe currently stars as the Queen of Rock & Roll in this autobiographical jukebox musical. “Tina” takes audiences through the legend’s rise in music, her rugged relationship with Ike Turner (played by Nick Rashad Burroughs in the production), and her massive music comeback in the 1980s. 

“Tina” addresses not only racism, but sexism, and ageism the musician faced later in her career. The production additionally tackles the complex relationship Turner, whose real name is Anna Mae Bullock, faced with her mother. However, the musical is not completely drowned in the sad moments of Tina Turner’s life. With hits such as “Nutbush City Limits,” “Proud Mary,” and “The Best,” the show bears a large amount of nostalgia and feel-good music. Each number is absolutely moving in its own way, and Obi-Melekwe is one of the reasons why.

Obi-Melekwe first portrayed Tina in the West End production only months after graduating from the University of Michigan. The North Carolina native was hand-picked by Turner herself to star in the London production. Following Adrienne Warren’s departure from “Tina” on Broadway, Obi-Melekwe took on the role full-time. She has additionally appeared on CBS’ “Bull” and Showtime’s “Smilf.” 

The Knockturnal had the honor of speaking with the Broadway star about the show’s emotional end.

The Knockturnal: What was your first reaction to hearing that you’d be playing Tina in the West End production? 

Obi-Melekwe: It was kind of crazy because it all happened at once. The audition process was like a week-long process for me. After I had my final audition, they pulled me into a room and the director offered me the role both in the West End to replace as well as to come be the alternate with the Broadway production. So, I got both of the jobs at the same time, it was a lot to handle at once. It wasn’t necessarily stressful. I just remember, as the week was going on I was talking to my manager, and I was like, “Is this really happening?” She started asking me questions about the contract  and I was like, “Are you being serious about this?”I was not expecting it at all. When I got not just one role, but the two roles in two different countries, it was insane. Overwhelming.

The Knockturnal: You received both of these roles almost right out of performing arts school? Were there any nerves in taking on this huge role at the start of your career?

Obi-Melekwe: Definitely, but I was really excited, honestly, I think because it was my first role out of school. This is as cool as it gets. It was just like really thrilling to me and especially to go to another country or country I love as much as I love England. To get to go back to someplace I love and do something that seems kind, intense, and all-encompassing was really exciting.

The Knockturnal: The pandemic stopped many productions including this one. How does it feel to be back in front of an audience even though they are all wearing masks? 

Obi-Melekwe: It’s been great to have audiences at all. When we first came back from the pandemic, it was definitely a culture shock for lack of a better term. To see people in the audience, but see half their faces for us, it’s kind of uncomfortable not knowing how they are responding and I’m sure as audience members it was uncomfortable not knowing how to emote through your mask and let us on stage that you’re still with us, but it’s been great honestly, just to be performing and to have people enjoying the show. 

The Knockturnal: What advice did you get from Tina that really helped you capture her essence? 

Obi-Melekwe: I’d asked her what she was thinking about in her head when she decided to leave Ike. 

And she said “if I asked you to go get the mail, you don’t think, I gotta stand up, put my shoes on, get the key, and then open the door, you just go and get the mail.  I didn’t think about it, I just went and I just did it”

That was really freeing to me. It opened a lot of doors for me and answered a lot of questions about how she behaved beyond the books, the movie, and all that stuff. I really just wanted to know about her ins and outs and how she functions and how she made those really huge life choices and hearing it from her in that way so simply was really poignant, profound, and helpful to my process.

The Knockturnal: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from this role?

Obi-Melekwe: I’m still learning after doing this for about three years. Maybe time will tell and I’m sure the answer I give today will be different from what I say on August 14, but I think for today, it is to take things moment by moment. Don’t think about the future. Don’t think about how you have thirty songs, just take it one song at a time.

The Knockturnal: Speaking of thirty songs, there are so many amazing musical numbers in the show! Do you have a favorite number in the show?

Obi-Melekwe: I really like “Simply the Best” because I love when the lights come up, and I finally get to see all the audience on those tall stairs. I can literally see everybody from the front row to the back of the balcony. It’s a moment that they’ve been waiting for since the start of the show and their reaction is so amazing!

The Knockturnal: With a few weeks left of “Tina,” what are you most looking forward to with these performances? 

Obi-Melekwe: I think that as we near the end it’ll all feel really high. You’ll start getting a different perspective on it and maybe a bit more gratitude and also a bit more of an insight. I’m excited for the memories that come as the show rounds to its close. Also, I might think of new thoughts that I hadn’t thought since 2018 when I was first learning the role and it’ll feel really full circle. It’s the logical conclusion for me on a personal level having started in London and ending it here, it just feels really right. 

The Knockturnal: Something that really stuck with me reading the playbook is that in your bio it states“for all first-generation children.” What advice do you have for first-gen kids who want to follow their dreams?

Obi-Melekwe: Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll probably say you’re on the right track. Whatever you think that you feel drawn to or pulled to do or to be in your life, even if it might feel a little left of center. If it calls out to your heart, I say do that. 

Tickets for the final weeks of Broadway’s “Tina—The Tina Turner Musical” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre are on sale now. For more information, visit www.TinaOnBroadway.com. Follow @TinaBroadway on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Related posts

Exclusive: Kausar Mohammed talks The Flash and Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous

On the scene: The Power Book III: Raising Kanan Party in New York City

RoleCall Theater Presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream In Atlanta