“Her soul is eternal and her spirit is with us on that stage always. Her legacy will live on forever”: Elesha Paul Moses and Karis Anderson on The Tina Turner Musical
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a celebration of Tina Turner’s incredible resilience, her timeless music, and her lasting impact on the world of entertainment. With a mix of heartwrenching moments and exhilarating performances, the show pays homage to a woman who defied the odds and found her voice, leaving an indelible mark on the music industry. It’s a story of transformation, empowerment and the unbreakable bond between an artist and her audience. It is now in its fifth year and has welcomed Karis Anderson and Elesha Paul Moses into the titular role. Karis Anderson’s theatre credits include Diana Ross in Motown (UK tour), PP Arnold in All Or Nothing (Ambassadors) and Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin (Jordan Productions). Elesha Paul Moses joined Tina in the West End in 2022. Her credits include Whitney: Queen of the Night (Cuffe and Taylor) and Tina: What’s Love Got to Do with It (Cuffe and Taylor). Elesha has had a career in the music industry for over 25 years, having been mentored by Matthew Knowles, as well as will.i.am and Tom Jones while appearing on The Voice on ITV1. The Upcoming had the opportunity to speak with both stars about all things Tina.
What inspired you to pursue a career in musical theatre? Was there a particular moment or performance that ignited your passion?
Karis Anderson: When I was young I used to watch all the old musical films with my mum. I always knew at some point in my life I would be in them myself – I envisioned it. I wasn’t sure when it would happen, but I knew at some point it would. I would do pantomimes every year as a kid, which definitely played a part in finding my passion for the stage. I was in a girl band in my 20s, then in my late 20s when it started dying down I knew it was time to get myself an agent and start going for some auditions. Some of my favourite musicals to watch as a child were Singin’ in the Rain and Oklahoma, but it was musicals like Chorus Line and The Wiz that stole my heart and really ignited my passion for the stage.
Elesha Paul Moses: To be honest, I never thought that little old me would be in the West End. I always wanted to be a recording artist and had always been writing and recording original music. As it worked out, my career moved into being a tribute artist to Whitney Houston and Tina – two massive, legendary artists – and my journey brought me to London’s West End to perform, not only singing but acting too, which I had only started in lockdown, so it was a complete 360 and I’m so grateful to be in this position.
Stepping into the role of Tina Turner requires a deep understanding of her life’s highs and lows. How do you immerse yourself in her world to achieve authenticity in your portrayal?
EPM: Like Tina, I have two children and always persevered with my music, no matter what! I’ve had jobs in literally everything you can think of, just to be able to look after my children and continue to do music. I was in a terrible abusive relationship that was very traumatic and, being a single mother now, my drive is to make sure my girls have the best life, which is the most important thing for me. So being on stage portraying Tina, I literally draw from my own experiences, and that’s why my performance is so deeply personal. I’m able to share my truth as if it would have been Tina’s.
KA: I’m a strong believer that everyone and everything is connected, and that there is a reason for everything, so I was able to fully immerse myself into the role because I know there is a purpose for me to be playing the role at this time. For me, it’s important to focus on being a vessel for Tina’s story, rather than copying or imitating her. Research is so important to really understand what this phenomenal woman really has gone through, and through research you understand where you can relate and keep it authentic.
Taking on the role of a powerhouse like Tina Turner must be incredibly exciting. What emotions and thoughts run through your mind when you think about sharing her story with the audience?
EPM: It gives me the feeling of truth to those who watch, as it draws out every emotion from me and in turn the audience. They are right there with you experiencing the journey: happy, sad, crying – every emotion in this show.
KA: Pure gratitude. I watched the show about four years ago and said to myself, “I will play Tina one day,” so for this to have manifested is quite surreal for me. I have always felt connected to her from when I learned of her relationship with Ike because I also survived a very bad domestic violence relationship. So many of the moments in the show speak to me on a deeper level – so much so, that sometimes I actually forget I’m playing the role of someone else, as some of the situations are so similar to things I have been through. Tina turned her pain to purpose, and I like to think I did a similar thing, so it’s a real full-circle moment for me. I feel abundantly lucky and blessed to be telling this wonderful woman’s story every day.
The West End has seen some fantastic performances with lead roles being shared. What are your thoughts on this collaborative approach, and do you think it should become more common?
KA: I think it heavily depends on the role. Most West End shows are eight shows a week over six days – to play a role like Tina for eight shows would be quite a strain on vocal and physical health, so here at Tina we split the role and Elesha and I do four shows each. Everything is equal and we are both promoted as the leads of the show. I think this is a great way to preserve the show and actors’ health. Some leading roles are doable eight times a week, but if it’s a demanding role I think it’s a great idea to split it.
EPM: Playing the role of Tina means we are on stage 99.9% of the time. It’s one of the hardest roles and we have to be physically and mentally prepared for this show, so sharing the role is perfect.
Have any previous actors who portrayed Tina reached out to you during your preparation? Did they offer any valuable insight or advice that has helped you in your performance?
EPM: All the Tinas speak! It’s a lovely connection and we all know we are there for each other.
KA: When I joined the show just over a year ago, the wonderful Aisha Jawando was still in the company playing Tina. We had known each other for a while before and she was Tina when I first came to see the show. She was always so supportive; even now, after her leaving the show, I still reach out to her for all things Tina-related as she knows the show so well. Watching Aisha work was like a masterclass, and I learned so much from her as a leading lady, on and offstage. Later in the contract we had the wonderful Kristina Love join us to play Tina, who had been playing her in Germany for three or four years, and I also learned so much from working onstage with her. For me, the most valuable insights I had from both of them were the stories they had from spending time with Tina. I’ll hold them close to my heart forever.
Besides Tina Turner, are there any other iconic roles you’ve always dreamed of playing? What draws you to those characters?
EPM: I played Whitney in a touring show and that was incredible.
KA: There are so many beautiful roles I’d love to chomp my teeth into! If The Wiz ever came to the West End, I would love to play Dorothy; it was a childhood favourite for me and the song Home from the soundtrack is my audition go-to. I’d also love to play Hamilton’s Angelica or Eliza one day, and Elphaba in Wicked. I’m manifesting one at a time!
When you’re not in the world of acting, what do you love to do in your free time? Any hobbies or interests that keep you inspired?
KA: When I’m not sleeping or eating [laughs], I love to meditate, read and spend time with my boyfriend, family and friends. Also I facilitate sound baths, which is one of my favourite forms of relaxation. I created a healing room in my house and I love to spend time in there meditating, reading and playing my sound bowls and other instruments.
EPM: I absolutely love the Foundry Gym. It’s such a buzz, they have amazing personal trainers and they keep me strong. When I’m not at work or the gym (which is a tag onto work) I’m with my two girls, Kookie and Teddy, doing all the fun things with them.
As experienced professionals in the theatre world, what piece of advice would you give to aspiring performers who dream of a life onstage?
EPM: My advice would be to stay true to you, always listen, and remember there is only one of you. You will always have set backs (I’ve had a lot), but just keep moving forward towards your goals. Most of all, love what you do and you’ll always be a winner.
KA: Speak and think positively about yourself and your career. I truly believe we create our reality, so make sure that how you think and speak about yourself matches the life and career you want. Work at your chosen crafts, study others and be inspired but never copy. Never stop learning, be a sponge to everything and everyone around you. Life is your teacher! You are going to get lots of “no”s in auditions – don’t take this personally. It’s just part of the process and it will all make sense eventually. Dust yourself off and keep going! It makes the “yes”s that much sweeter. Look after yourself and make sure you do things to make you happy. Keep your cup filled so you can always show up as your best self.
Tina Turner’s spiritual aspect is an essential part of her character. How do you personally connect with that element of her, and how does it impact your performance?
EPM: I believe in the universe. I manifest everything but I also work hard, so getting into the performance isn’t hard for me. I just feel like I’m stepping into her space and she’s right there next to me.
KA: The spiritual aspect is something I immediately connected with due to my own personal views on spirituality. I love this element of the show as it really helps me ground myself and be present – especially during the chants – and truly find a connection. Tina’s spiritual beliefs align with my own, so that made it much easier to find my “reason” for the choices I make and understand the true meaning behind all of Tina’s decisions.
Theatre has a unique way of bringing stories to life and connecting with audiences on a profound level. Can you share a memorable experience or moment in your own theatre journey that had a lasting impact on you?
KA: Honestly this whole experience at Tina will have a lasting impact on me. I genuinely visualised myself in this role, and to be here playing her now is just so fulfilling. Seeing how her story has such an impact on the whole audience night after night, it’s so inspiring. I will never forget that feeling. Also the synchronicities of life always blow my mind, my first ever contract was a show called All or Nothing and I played a wonderful woman called PP Arnold, who was actually an original Ikette for Ike and Tina for years. Little did I know a few years later I would be joining this show as an Ikette, then going on to play Tina herself a year later!
EPM: There have been so many moments; I’ve been doing this a long time! I’d have to go through the filing cabinet in my head to pull out something. But jokes aside, every show at Tina always has an impact on me because of the emotional impact it has.
Many actors and performers find that they learn something new about themselves through the characters they portray. Has there been a specific role that taught you valuable lessons or provided insight into your own life?
EPM: For me, it’s actually the reverse: I’ve found that my life experiences have made it easier to portray who I am on stage
KA: Tina has been that life-changing show for me. She is the epitome of strength and resilience, but she never let her difficult experiences turn her hard. She remained soft, compassionate and led with love and kindness. She was never afraid to go against the grain. I will carry a “what would Tina do” attitude with me forever.
Theatre often involves collaboration and building strong connections with fellow cast members. Can you tell us about a particularly special bond you formed while working on a production and how it influenced your performance?
EPM: I absolutely miss Meg (I call her Meggy Mo). She was in the cast when I first started. She’s got the energy of a rainbow and she will always be my friend. She works as a human design coach and helps me with my thoughts, so it’s great to have my sessions with her too
KA: When I joined the show originally, I was one of the Ikettes, as I mentioned earlier, so I had the chance to be part of the ensemble morale and I made some wonderful bonds – our girls’ dressing room especially and in our quick change. We spend so much time together and witness each other’s bad and good days and support each other through them all. During the last cast, I made a special bond with my beautiful friend, Jaz, who was a swing in the show and is now currently taking Toronto by storm in the original cast of Six as Aragon! We both have similar beliefs and we would literally speak life into each other and tell each other we are soon to be “leading ladies”. We were both unsure of what our next step would be but we both trusted the process and knew our worth. Her beautiful spirit and energy helped me through the last contract and she definitely played a part in me going on to play Tina. Now we’re both leading ladies living our dreams, and I know we will be friends for life. I love playing Tina but I will miss having the time with the rest of the ensemble.
Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of hard work and dedication that goes into creating a successful theatre production. Could you share a challenging obstacle you faced during the development of a show, and how you and the team overcame it?
EPM: There is a lot of hard work, and it’s not what people see. The wig department, stage management, wardrobe, lighting – all of these elements have to come together… It’s a mammoth operation with so many people involved so there is always something going on. These guys work so hard behind the scenes to keep it all running like clockwork.
KA: There is absolutely so much hard work and there isn’t enough credit given to those who really make the show happen every day, from stage management, company management to lighting to wigs and wardrobe – everyone works so so hard and it’s important that all departments are recognised. In terms of obstacles, I would say everything has been pretty seamless when it comes to the actual show; the only thing that unfortunately sometimes puts a spanner in the works is the repetitive strain the show puts on our bodies, especially in the role of Tina. There are fights where we have to throw ourselves around, fall, kick, be punched, strangled, etc, all in between singing and dancing full-out. So sometimes this takes its toll and we can get injured or need voice rest. I recently fell badly in a fight and injured my knees. It was a quick recovery, luckily but it’s very easy to feel the physical strain with the show, which is why it’s so important to look after ourselves.
Theatre is not just about entertainment – it can be a powerful platform for social commentary and change. Is there a particular play or performance that you’ve been involved in that aimed to address important societal issues, and what impact did it have on the audience?
EPM: Our show is working with Women’s Aid, and we did a show for them. The impact and importance that brought to everyone was incredibly empowering and our wonderful Olympian, Michelle Griffith, gave an incredible speech.
KA: The last two shows I have been a part of have both addressed societal issues: I played Diana Ross in Motown a few years ago and the show highlighted the civil rights movement, segregation, racism and more. Tina went through many societal adversities and we shine a light on these too throughout the show. The audience are always shocked to hear some of the language and see the behaviour used by some of the characters as it’s sometimes uncomfortable and isn’t necessarily something we might hear today, but it’s a massive part of Tina’s story, so it’s important we give an authentic portrayal of the reality of the time.
Has the passing of Tina earlier this year changed the atmosphere surrounding the show? How do you and the cast handle the responsibility of keeping her legacy alive onstage?
KA: We found out she had passed mid-show, which was very unreal and extremely sad, as you can imagine. The atmosphere was completely different during that time and some scenes were a lot harder than usual. I think it has changed the atmosphere of the audience slightly as more people are travelling from all over the world to see the show. We have a lot more Tina fans coming to see the show also. But at the same time I would say the atmosphere of the actual show itself hasn’t changed much as it was always electric. Her soul is eternal and her spirit is with us on that stage always. Her legacy will live on forever.
EPM: It’s amazing to be able to keep Tina’s legacy alive. We absolutely love performing onstage and telling her story. It’s simply the best.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is on at Aldwych Theatre until February 2024. For further information or to book tickets visit the theatre’s website here.