Simply the best: Proof that It takes two Tinas to be a Turner

She was known as the ‘Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ for good reason – and because Tina Turner was such an incredible performer it takes two stars to play her on stage

May 16, 2024, updated May 16, 2024
Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy (pictured) and Ruva Ngwenya share the role of rock music legend Tina Turner in the stage musical Tina. Photo: Daniel Boud

Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy (pictured) and Ruva Ngwenya share the role of rock music legend Tina Turner in the stage musical Tina. Photo: Daniel Boud

Tina – the Tina Turner Musical spans the mountain highs and low valleys of the music legend’s extraordinary life on and off stage – hence it’s no wonder two performers share the intense load of stepping into her shoes eight times a week.

So when the Australian production, which features more than 20 of Tina Turner’s songs, kicks off its Brisbane leg next month audiences will see either Ruva Ngwenya or Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy perform as the iconic singer-songwriter, dubbed the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The pair has been alternating the role since the premiere of the show in Sydney a year ago. Rest assured, both are equally brilliant at channelling the legend.

The night I went along last year it was Ohene MacCarthy’s turn. The English performer, who’s of Ghanaian heritage, magnetically captured Turner’s sound, physicality and charisma. However, it’s only now while Tina is playing in Adelaide that we’ve had the opportunity to speak, and even via video call her vibrant enthusiasm is once again infectious.

While playing Tina Turner may be a dream role, the Londoner admits that when auditions were announced, initially she didn’t jump at the chance.

“I thought, ‘Australia – that’s a bit far!’” she laughs. “But I gave it a go and thank God I did because it’s a great job.”

The distance hadn’t been her only reservation, Ohene MacCarthy reveals. Despite now having proven her casting was spot-on, initially she wasn’t even in the running to play the star. The tertiary-trained triple threat, who’d featured in UK productions of The Lion King and Hairspray, shares that she initially auditioned as Turner’s mother Zelma because “I never saw myself as a Tina”.

After watching the show a few years earlier she’d clocked “the vocal range, the trauma” and concluded, “Yep, I could never play her”.

But Ohene MacCarthy couldn’t hide her light under a bushel, and after three audition rounds the creatives began testing her as Tina Turner. Despite winning the role after several more rounds, Ohene MacCarthy still didn’t dispel her self-doubt, she candidly discloses.

“When I first found out I sat there for about 20 minutes, thinking, ‘How on earth am I going to do this role?’ Because I didn’t believe in myself at the time. So I had to prepare myself emotionally and spiritually.”

She turned to her Christian faith, her Pentecostal pastor mother Margaret and prayer for help to get through. That help came directly via the Tina creative team.

“Our international associate choreographer Simone Mistry-Palmer, associate director Nicholai La Barrie and musical director Sebastian de Domenico all poured into me and made me believe that I could do it,” Ohene MacCarthy says.

It was also spiritual faith, more than music, which first deeply connected Ohene MacCarthy to the real woman as she began preparing for Tina. The youngest of three daughters, she had grown up hearing her parents play Turner’s music without absorbing their attachment or knowing much about Turner’s life. Both Ohene MacCarthy and Turner had grown up singing in church.

“That was my thing – I love being in the choir, especially with my mum’s church. That was where my passion of presenting music and performing started,” she says.

“I learned in my research that even when Tina became Buddhist she still had Christian beliefs. She had a strong belief in God, which helped her get through so many lows in her life to be the Tina Turner that we know and we love.”

How Turner triumphantly overcame traumatic abuse is as much a part of her legacy as is her music, and that is what the show – which Turner and husband Erwin Bach helped develop as executive producers – clearly celebrates.

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Ohene MacCarthy wants audiences to leave the show feeling inspired by Turner’s journey, declaring, “Life gave her lemons and she made one sweet lemonade”. From the stage, she recognises Australia’s special relationship with the icon, which started with our unique Nutbush City Limits dance and was cemented through the Simply the Best NRL campaign.

“They have a deeper meaning here than I’ve ever seen. Sometimes when you’re performing, audience members come to the front of the stage, doing ‘the Nutbush’ and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah! This isn’t part of the choreography, but I wish it was!’”

Her own favourite number is Disco Inferno.

“If I could do a song for free for the rest of my life, that would be the one – that fiery outfit, the music, the vibes. For me, that’s another relief moment from the physical and emotional heavy work within the show. I get to enjoy connecting with the audience and the music and have a good time.”

Usually performers never get to see their show from an audience perspective, but that’s one motivating benefit of the role-sharing.

“I love watching Ruva (Ngwenya),” confirms Ohene MacCarthy, adding their two understudies too.

“It is refreshing and it reminds me of why I do what I do. When you watch somebody else do it, you’ll watch the audience’s reaction. Sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna use that!’ It just makes everyone do better work.”

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, Lyric Theatre, QPAC, from June 29.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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