Elesha Paul Moses and Caleb Roberts on starring in 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' in the West End
It's gonna work out fine for Elesha Paul Moses and Caleb Roberts, who now lead the hit West End production of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. Moses shakes her tailfeather as the titular Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, sharing the role with Aisha Jawando, while Roberts joins the London company to play Tina's ex-husband Ike Turner.
Like Turner, Moses had a career in the music industry. She appeared on The X Factor and The Voice and was mentored by Beyoncé’s dad Matthew Knowles. She has led two diva-tastic touring shows - one dedicated to Whitney Houston, another to Turner.
Roberts, meanwhile, entered the acting world via The Brit School and Guildhall, and has more experience with plays than musicals: he made his debut in the Ian McKellen-led King Lear. However, musical theatre fans will recognise him as Prince Charming in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella.
Since its premiere in 2018 at the Aldwych Theatre, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is now a West End staple. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!), the musical has a book by the Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall. The epic show tells Turner’s extraordinary story, from her childhood through her troubled partnership with Ike and reinvention as a rock ‘n’ roll star. It features her massive hits like “River Deep Mountain High”, “Private Dancer,” and “The Best”.
"There’s so much in this show. I’ve seen it so many times and I love watching it," Moses says. "Even now, it hasn’t sunk in that I’m playing Tina. I get excited every time I walk past the [theatre] sign!"
For Roberts, portraying a well-known figure means it’s important to “give the truth of it as much as possible. You have to approach it as your Ike and your Tina, rather than just copy what’s come before.”
We chatted about what it’s like to join an established West End show, their favourite Turner songs and moments, and why Tina often surprises audiences.
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How do you approach playing real people like Tina and Ike?
Elesha Paul Moses: I watched her documentary and researched her - nowadays there’s so much you can do with YouTube and the internet, so I developed deep into her life, trying to find her ways and hopefully portray them as best I can. It’s been a fun process. I’m growing and learning every day with this show.
Caleb Roberts: During auditions, I looked at as many YouTube videos as I could, to hear what Ike sounds like and get a sense of him. I also read his book a few times, trying to figure out how he thinks. He’s such a complex man. He did a lot of different things that a lot of people had problems with, but he had such a complicated life before he even met Tina. It’s my responsibility as an actor to find that out.
How do you bring something fresh to the character, while performing in an established production?
Elesha: All the other Tinas, they’re incredible! You can’t be exactly the same as everyone else though - you have your own take on it. It’s just about doing the best job that you can do. I take what I’ve learned about Tina, and blend that with how our [resident] director Nicholai [La Barrie] sees her. She’s always bubbly, always fire, the life of the party, plus so many other elements that you’ve got to keep in mind within the scenes. She was never a victim. And then a part of me is going to be in that as well. I just love playing her.
It’s interesting, some parts you think “Why aren’t people cheering at this?”, but it’s because they’re so engrossed in the story. The big numbers are great as well, like “Proud Mary”, but it’s good that people get caught up in those moments of drama.
Caleb: [I've talked] with all [the West End Ikes]. Ashley [Zhangazha] was a couple of years ahead of me at Guildhall. I gave him a call and asked him what it’s like doing the show. I saw Jammy [Kasongo] doing it just when I got cast - I’d bumped into him three years ago through a mutual friend. It’s crazy how everything comes full circle. There’s so much to find within that part - everyone has their different interpretations.
Is it satisfying to dig into the dramatic element of this show?
Caleb: Yes, it actually feels like a play. I haven’t done many musicals before, and the way it’s directed, it feels like drama - it’s very specific. We go through the text and really get under it, find every little nuance. What’s exciting about doing this for a year is you’ll never get bored of it.
Elesha: Having to really feel the emotion in some of the scenes, I’m devastated - I’m crying, I’m feeling this pain. But I’ve got the ability to switch it off - I’m quite good at that. You need it, because you really go on a journey with this show. You feel like you’ve lived her life. It’s absolutely amazing.
It must also take a lot of physical stamina.
Elesha: This is a serious calorie burn! I used to do [the tribute] show (Tina: What’s Love Got to Do With It), which was just songs one after the other. This is different: you have the numbers, and every song is a burst of energy, then it drops down and you’re back into a scene. Luckily I love going to the gym anyway. I’ve joined the gym down the road, and I’m careful food wise as well.
What’s your favourite number in the show?
Caleb: My favourite is “I Don’t Wanna Fight”, at the end of Act I. It’s a beautiful song and a huge moment in the show, where something happens to Tina, she finds her power and everyone joins in. It’s really special.
Elesha: Mine was “I Want to Take You Higher”, now it’s “Nutbush City Limits.” It’s so fun! I also love “Disco Inferno.”
Are you proud to be in a show about this incredible Black artist?
Elesha: Definitely. I’ve got two children, 10 and 4, and they’re growing up and getting to see me doing this. And for many other children as well. It's amazing to be sharing this story with everyone.
Has your own experience in the music business helped prepare you?
Elesha: It’s funny, for the last 20 years I’ve pursued a singing career, and now this is completely different. But all my experiences have definitely helped in how I am, my drive. Tina had that massive drive - she always pushed forward. That’s the way to be. It has helped, my determination to end up here.
Caleb, how are you enjoying being part of a big musical, compared with performing in plays?
Caleb: I’m loving it! Everyone’s so talented and everyone has such different stories of how they got here. Normally I’m in a company of six or 10 people, doing a play - we’ve got 30. It’s really lovely.
Why do you think the show is such a hit with audiences?
Elesha: It’s Tina’s real life - it’s the story of what she went through. I don’t think people know about it all. When they see those harsh parts in the show, there are some gasps. It wasn’t just that she made it at 40 - we go way back, and it’s such an eye-opener. All these people in it are real people. That’s really incredible.
Caleb: I don’t think people expect to see what they see. I didn’t know what to expect the first time. You come to hear Tina songs and dance along, and you get that as well, but it’s such an amazing story. It takes you through decades of her life. It gives you what you want, it does give you the concert, the big tunes you hear all the time, but it gives you that bit more too.
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Photo credit: Elesha Paul Moses and Caleb Roberts (Photos by Manuel Harlan)
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