Ruva brings the singing, dancing world of Tina Turner to Perth

Ruva Ngwenya © Daniel Boud

Tina Turner was a force in the rock music world, a dynamic, dramatic, dazzling entertainer who brought her own personal courage and life experience to the stage over many years. When Sydney based entertainer Ruva Ngwenya was chosen to play the title role in TINA: The
Tina Turner Musical
she was ecstatic.

“I had about 10 rounds of auditions before I was offered the part,” Ruva tells Have a Go News from Sydney where she is appearing in the show before moving to Perth for a six-week stint at Crown.

“I worked very hard dancing and singing and acting over a three-month period so it was a lot of work. I think I watched every clip of Tina on YouTube, all the documentaries about her and a few on Buddism (Tina followed Buddhism) as well.

“I feel I am well learned in Tina’s life and what she went through and I do my best to put myself in her shoes every night; I bring my own attributes to the role. There are moments when it is up to you to create that flair, that musicality that you have within you.

“What we have with musical director Nick Skilbeck is the Tina toolbox; there are so many things we can do to sound like Tina or bring Tina’s essence to a song. But you still have a whole song to sing so the rest is up to you; bring Tina in but also yourself so that the two can marry and create this awesome performance.”

Ruva has been gracing Australian stages since her early years, playing the Melbourne jazz circuit at the age of 16. Her professional musical theatre debut came in 2013 as Shenzi in The Lion King.

After this, a string of big musicals followed, including We Will Rock You, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Ragtime and Moulin Rouge:
The Musical
, making Ruva one of musical theatre’s most sought-after performers.

TINA: The Tina Turner Musical follows Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939) from her troubled childhood in rural Tennessee, to her years on the southern R&B circuit with bandleader (and future husband) Ike Turner (played by Tim Omaji).

It charts her rise to fame, years of domestic violence and the career crash that nearly claimed her life.

The cast and live band deliver 20 of Turner’s biggest hits including Nutbush City Limits, Better Be Good to Me, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Proud Mary and earlier 1960s hits with Ike Turner A Fool in Love and River Deep, Mountain High.

Ruva captures Tina the singer in full voice from a 17-year-old singer to maturity and the wonderful dancing from swaggering, strutting and fast, jerky, hopping steps, all done in high heels. 

“I do five shows a week each lasting about 2½ hours so from start to finish you don’t leave the stage and you can’t lose your concentration.” Ruva says. “The only minute I stop and have a cup of tea is at intermission.

“There are lots of amazing costumes but my favourite is the red leather number that I wear at the beginning and end of the show, it is just so sexy.”

Ruva says although she unfortunately did not meet Tina who was living in Switzerland and was unable to come to Australia when the musical launched (Tina passed away last May) she sent a message to herself and the company wishing them well, saying she was so excited about the show being up and running in Australia.

“Of course, she had close connections with the National Rugby League and she gave me her blessing to bring my own soul to the role of Tina and I thought that was really special.”

Special attributes about Tina? 

“I would say her mind and her resilience. When I do the drama of the show the choices Tina makes and her will to keep pushing on until she reaches the pinnacle is quite extraordinary.

“I think these days we are a little bit soft, there has to be a safe place. I think in part it is a disservice to young people. Tina showed me I am capable of doing more than I was giving myself credit for because I didn’t think I could do the role when I first heard it was coming to Australia.

“Then you look at Tina’s journey, the hard work and dealing with a lot of abuse and it is quite inspiring and you are a lot stronger than you think you are… it’s a matter of how much you are willing to push and break through those walls.”

Ruva says she works out at a gym most days and has one day off to give her body a rest. 

“It is important to keep your body strong and mobile and also work out muscles that you don’t work in the show.

“On my day off I usually sleep in, make a nice breakfast with eggs and then I might go for a walk, watch a movie and hang out with my boyfriend. Most of the time I like being in the house because the rest of the week can be quite exhausting.”

After Perth, TINA: The Tina Turner Musical goes to Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne into 2025.

Says Ruva: “I am excited about the future. When it comes it will be great.”

TINA: The Tina Turner Musical plays at Crown Theatre from February 28 till April 6. Bookings at Ticketmaster.

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Josephine Allison started her career in journalism at 18 as a cadet on the Geraldton Guardian newspaper. She realised her ambition to work on a daily newspaper when she later joined The West Australian where she spent almost 34 years covering everything from police courts to parliament, general news, the arts and real estate. After moving on from The West, she worked on several government short-term media contracts and part-time at a newspaper in Midland before joining Have a Go News in 2012. These days she enjoys writing about interesting people from various fields, often unsung heroes who have helped make WA a better place.