For Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Playing Tina Turner Has Been Life-Changing in Big and Small Ways

That’s huge. Your first major role out of college is leading a Broadway show. How did you celebrate?

It was right around Thanksgiving, and I was planning to see my group of friends anyway, so we all got together. It was just awesome and surreal. From that point on, every day felt like a celebration because it was one day closer to moving to London and having it all begin.

What was your relationship to Tina Turner before the show started?

Honestly, I didn’t really have one. I like to keep it real about that! My generation was not necessarily raised at a time when Tina was playing on MTV, so getting to take on this role has not only been an introduction to Tina for me, but to my generation of women. My dad is a big music person, so I must have heard her around the house growing up, but I never went out of my way to listen to her. But even after the auditions process, I continued to listen to her music, which is not something I typically would do because I usually try to put the audition out of my head. But the music was too good not to listen to!

What was it like the first time you met her?

It was unbelievable. During tech rehearsals in London, one of the company managers said, “I want to see you after rehearsal.” Of course I immediately thought I was getting fired. It was fun while it lasted! But instead, she simply said, “You’re flying to meet Tina in Switzerland on Thursday.” It was a Tuesday, so of course I was like, “Oh, God, I have to go shopping! What am I going to wear to meet Tina Turner?”

What does someone wear to meet Tina Turner?

I bought a dress from Zara that I still have. It doesn’t do much for me anymore since my body has changed so much, but I’ll never get rid of it because that’s the dress I wore when I met Tina Turner.

What did you guys talk about?

Her husband picked me up at the airport and brought me to their chateau for afternoon tea. She really wanted to get to know me, which was really interesting and unexpected for me. She wanted to know about my upbringing, the role, how I was faring, and she answered so many questions I had about trying to find my way into her. She has such a beautiful spirituality, and the thing that’s kept me going is that she doesn’t hold onto her trauma, and that’s how she goes through life. She’s really opened the door to mindfulness and intentionality for me.

You’re on stage for almost three hours every night, giving what I can only describe as Olympic-level athleticism, transferred to the Broadway stage. How does someone prepare for that?

The show ends around 11 at night, and I always leave with so much energy—it can take a while to come off of that. By the time I take a shower at the theater, get home, take a bath, have dinner, do some breath work and meditate, it’s about two in the morning. That’s when I usually go to bed, and I wake up any time between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The show is so demanding, so I try to ease myself into the day. I try to make some sounds in the morning just to get my voice going, and I eat dinner around 4:30 p.m. to get my body ready for the show. I do some breath work and then I like to do some hula hooping to get my core and body moving with all the dancing we do on stage. It’s whimsical and fun. Then I’ll do a bit of jump rope, and 10 minutes of voice exercises before the show.

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