Zurin Villanueva stars as the titular character in the Broadway touring company production of “TINA — The Tina Turner Musical.” The show’s closing weekend in Los Angeles is Friday, July 7, through Sunday, July 9, at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. From there, the musical moves on to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA.
“TINA — The Tina Turner Musical” features the music of Tina Turner and the play chronicles the recording star’s life.
Because the character of Tina has a total of 21 musical numbers in the show, including physically demanding choreography, Villanueva shares the role with another actress, Naomi Rodgers. The pair split the role equally by alternating their nightly performances.
The Brooklyn, NY born and raised Villanueva is the child of a lawyer and a court reporter. She attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
“My childhood was pretty perfect, and filled with the arts, because New York had all of that available,” she said.
Villanueva then attended the historically Black college, Howard University, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre degree. After Howard, Villanueva briefly considered coming to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. However, she says New York was the more prudent choice.
“At the end of the day, it was easier to start a career in New York,” stated Villanueva. “My family’s there, I had cheap rent, and I got my equity card before I graduated college.”
An equity card is proof of membership in the actors and stage managers union, the Actors’ Equity Association.
Villanueva reveals that having her union card allowed her to go to New York and participate in auditions for any show covered under the Actor’s Equity Association.
Her first noteworthy role was in “CROWNS” at the Arena Stage, a regional theatre. After “CROWNS,” Villanueva was chosen to play “Charlaine” in the musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” directed by André De Shields.
“That man [De Shields] has a huge resume of Broadway shows,” imparted Villanueva. “He ushered us into the world and told us the stories of the Black stars of Broadway that we would not have found out about otherwise.”
Villanueva cites De Shields along with legendary producer, director, actor, choreographer Debbie Allen as major inspirations.
The musical comedy “The Book of Mormon,” would be Villanueva’s next premium role and one she remembers as being very profitable. Villanueva’s resume continued to expand with the Eubie Blake musical “Shuffle Along,” which featured a who’s who of Black Broadway royalty.
“I got to watch the great Audra McDonald work along with George C. Wolfe, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, and [names],” emphasized Villanueva. “Come on, it was giants in the room every day!”
Villanueva then played “Dionne” in the Broadway adaptation of “Mean Girls” and “Nala” in “The Lion King.”
“TINA — The Tina Turner Musical” is written by “P-Valley” creator Katori Hall and directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Villanueva says she auditioned for the role of “Tina” twice. The first time she auditioned it was to understudy for the original “Tina” star Adrienne Warren.
“I was extremely happy with my audition, but I didn’t hear back. I was pretty sure I was typed out. I’m tall and thin at 5’7”, and Tina was 5’2”,” noted Villanueva. “I guess they ran out of girls, because here I am [laughs]. I’m joking, I’m completely joking!”
Villanueva says her process was made easier because she was able to watch footage, autobiographies, and biographies of the star.
The iconic stage performer Tina Turner passed away on May 24, 2023, and the musical based on her life was already on tour. Her death struck Villanueva in a profound way.
“It was a heavy rolling grief, grieving for someone you never met. She really passed on the baton, we really have it now, and I have to make sure I do good with it,” said Villanueva.
“My first show back I was a mess, I was a mess. I thought I was fine because it had been a week,” continued Villanueva. “When Zelma dies at the end in the show, I lost it!”
In addition to her numerous stage credits, Villanueva appears in the suspense-comedy “Murder Mystery 2” currently streaming on Netflix.
Keith L. Underwood is the host of the KBLA Talk 1580 entertainment radio show, “Black In The Green Room.” A former entertainment publicist, he currently develops platforms for performers, creatives, and Hollywood execs to shine and inspire. IG: @umaworldwide.