Interview: Ari Groover of TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL at Orpheum Theater

Ari Groover of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical heads to Omaha this week to show audiences why Tina truly was simply the best!

By: Oct. 30, 2023
Interview: Ari Groover of TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL at Orpheum Theater
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Photo Credit: <a target=Matthew Murphy" height="219" src="" width="316" />
Ari Groover as Tina Turner
(Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy)

Can you tell me a little bit about your start and how you first came to have an interest in the arts? When did you find your love for musical theatre?

My mother was a dance teacher at a historically Black college called Savannah State University, which is in my hometown, Savannah, Georgia. We were always around sports and the arts. We have this big arts culture in Savannah, and she sort of instilled in me an appreciation for theater, visual arts, and really art in any capacity to be honest. Since I was singing as a little kid, I’ve always had an interest in the arts. As I got older, I didn’t necessarily see myself in musical theatre. I sort of saw myself either as a singer or a dancer doing a lot of dancing for artists. I actually went to college for illustration art/visual arts. So I’ve always been around the arts and I’ve always been to a performing arts school, but I just never really saw myself as a musical theater person. I just saw myself as someone who could either do the acting or I could do the dancing or I could do the singing, but I didn’t think that I would be in a space to do it all together because I didn’t see a lot of Black people that looked like me or a lot of people who represented me where I was from on the Great White Way. I just never really thought that I would be interested in it up until maybe high school or college.

You have so many wonderful shows under your belt, both on Broadway and off-Broadway. What was the transition like for you to go from college into a professional career in musical theatre?

It was a weird journey. Back home in Atlanta, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just in school for illustration art and I was working. They were some tough times, and everybody was still trying to recover from the recession and just getting back to things. It’s funny because I went out on this audition that one of the teachers from Broadway Dreams, which is an organization I had worked with based out of Atlanta, Stafford Arima had for his off-Broadway production of Bare The Musical. I went to that audition not expecting anything. I really didn’t expect anything at all. I just thought this was cool and this was great and I’d audition. The dancing was fun. I just didn’t see myself in that show, and I ended up booking it. Once that closed I just was like, “OK, well I’m here in New York, and I can’t go back to Atlanta right now because there’s nothing in theatre for me there now that I’ve moved here.” So I just kept on this journey and it ended up working out in this weird way where I was blessed to just get show after show. Right after that, even though it took some time where I was working and doing things to hold me over, I ended up getting Holler If You Hear Me, which was my Broadway debut. I did a workshop in 2013 where I met my wonderful and dear friend Chadwick Boseman, who is no longer with us. We transitioned to Broadway and then that closed. You learn a lot about shows opening and closing. I just wanted to make it a mission to just stick it out and see what happens. I ended up being a part of a bunch of different shows, whether creating choreography for it or being in it. I’ve been lucky to say that I have been a part of wonderful shows and watched them grow, whether I went to Broadway with them or not. I’m very lucky. Even though I didn’t see myself in this industry at all, I’m excited to see what comes of it and excited to see what happens.

Speaking of different creative opportunities you’ve had in your career such as a singer, dancer, actor and choreographer… You also DJ. I know you just recently had the opportunity to DJ at the 1000th performance party for Little Shop of Horrors. I would love to hear a little bit more about how you got into that and a little more about Sunday Night On Broadway (S.N.O.B.), which you are the co-creator of.

So as I said before, music has always been a part of my life. My mom played everything from funk to Yo-Yo Ma to Nina Simone in the house. We played it all. Once I got to New York, I think I decided that since I was in New York I wanted to start taking my DJing skills seriously because I felt like I was in the heart of it all . So after Holler If You Hear Me, I started doing the things and getting the equipment. I actually had a mentor who goes by OP. He is a wonderful DJ who has been DJing for probably 20+ years and he kind of just helped navigate my way into this world. While doing that my friends Preston Dugger and Emily McGill, who are also the other co-founders of Sunday Night On Broadway (S.N.O.B), were like, “You know what? Everybody has this world where they have music and a safe space to get creative and just get loose and dance. Broadway doesn’t necessarily have that.” So we wondered how we can make a collective for everybody that is also meant for the creatives who work eight shows a week and don’t really get to blow off steam. How do we create a safe space for everybody to come to? That’s when we started S.N.O.B. It started growing into something bigger than we even thought it would be and we started doing our own personal events. DJ Duggz has had some incredible performances and gigs, and Emily used to be a PR person for Broadway and she does lots of different things for Broadway. She is also is back in school studying spirituality, while learning the business of it and how to keep helping guide Broadway people into having the sense of cohesiveness with spirituality and being on Broadway. It’s been a wonderful thing that sort of fills my creativity where sometimes I’m just like Broadway can make you feel like you need to be this this or that in order to thrive. You don’t. And when I get to DJ, I create a space where people, including myself, can let that go. I just listen to the music and ask myself what the music is telling me and what I’m feeling. I wonder how the people are feeling. It’s a very communal space and I’m really big about community, which is one of the reasons we created S.N.O.B. Being a part of Little Shop celebrations the last weekend, and to see how it’s gotten to 1000 performances when I originated the role in this production, has such a special place in my heart. This is the show that got me the Lucille Lortel nomination for playing Ronette. It was such a fun show. The cast loves each other dearly and so to see all of these different reiterations and all of these other people who played these roles, it’s such a beautiful thing. I call Alan Menken “Uncle Alan,” so him even just coming in and seeing everybody was just so special.

Looping back to a comment you made earlier about needing to be “this or that” on Broadway, while also transitioning to Tina - The Tina Turner Musical… When it comes to show like Tina The Musical, when you’re playing a very real icon, how do you stay true to yourself as an artist, while paying tribute and bringing authenticity to a role like to Tina?

You know, it’s so funny because I didn’t get to meet Tina, but Tina‘s advice was honestly to be yourself and be authentic and then you will do me justice. I think she was just such an authentic person and recognized that even though we’re playing her, we still have to bring part of us to her. I think that’s the story. I think it’s brilliant because it makes it accessible for anyone to be able to play this role and to also not have this pressure of feeling like you have to constantly be Tina, with all the perfections and imperfections. Tina was not a perfect person - there’s no such thing as perfect people. You can have perfect intentions and at least try to do that. This role requires you to have a bit of authenticity. You have to be able to let yourself feel everything on that stage in order to tell the story, because it’s just a vast amount of information and history. There are just so many things within her life that you have to really just pay homage to by listening to yourself and listening to your body and understanding that this is raw and real, but it’s also triumphant. So you really go through this journey of playing this woman. It feels like you’re an athlete when you go on as Tina. You feel like you are the running back of the football team trying to get to the touchdown. She allows you to have grace and understand that it’s not easy. It’s such a beautiful thing, which is why I think it requires at least two of us to play the role. We also have a wonderful swing and understudy. It takes a village with this role, which makes sense because Tina was always trying to take care of her village. It’s one of the reasons why she was able to be so successful for decades.

Throughout your research about Tina in preparation for this role, what was the most surprising thing you learned about Tina and your journey with the show?

I think one of the biggest things that I learned about Tina was that her tenacity and drive were really impeccable. She was always going to find a way to figure something out. I think the faith in her self even in her darkest of days is what speaks to a lot of people. I think it’s especially prevalent today in the world that we’re in, given the tumultuous state that we’re in right now. People feel like, “How can we continue?” and “How are we supposed to live this life like this?” Tina lived to find the love and the joy in things. And she was actually very funny person. She liked to crack jokes a lot, and you’ll see it in the show. She had such a wonderful personality that you can’t help just fall in love with her. She also exuded this sort of sex appeal being in her mid 40s, which is so crazy to me because I feel like today that is when you are considered “past your peak.” But when you’re in a world that’s male dominated it makes it hard - when you have something that is a male dominated industry telling you what you as a woman are supposed to be. If you have kids, you’re no longer relevant or you’re not looked at as sexy or sexual. You’re not looked at as a powerhouse because time has passed and, at this rate, you should just be a normal stay at home mom. Tina said she could do all things. I am a rockstar. I am a mother. I am a sister. I’m a friend. She is the definition of a true woman to me. And I love her because her grace is not necessarily pretty. It’s powerful. I think when people think of images of a woman, sometimes people just think that pretty is the only adjective to describes a woman. But no, she is powerful and there’s grace in power.

Any differences between Broadway and the touring production?

There’s not really many differences in the production. I think what I see that is different is how Tina has impacted people in different spaces and different places. To see the responses from people in Seattle or Phoenix, and to see which songs inspired them the most or which songs give them the most nostalgia - it shows that everyone just loves this icon. She’s a global icon to be honest. We see how iconic her music and her story is. We know it when we see it on Broadway, but the thing about Broadway is that people come to you, which is a pro and con because not everybody can necessarily have accessibility to Broadway. So being on the tour, people have access to see who this beautiful human being was, and the people that made her who she was and her village and her tribe. You get to see that in the show and with this ensemble. We have a wonderful ensemble and they are working really hard. The Tinas take care of the ensemble and the ensemble take care of us. And you can see it.

Talking about stories, icons, power and just persevering, I would be remiss not to mention the Tina wig fall heard round the world. Can you tell us about that? What was that experience like going to bed after the show that night and waking up seeing it all over People Magazine, E! Online, and Yahoo!, just to name a few?

I just assumed it was gonna be something that happened one of these days with that wig. It was so crazy because our Director was there that day and giving notes and she was watching all the Tinas. It was my turn to be Tina that day and we had some technical difficulties before the show. There was something wrong with the sound where our musicians couldn’t hear each other in their inner ears and there are no monitors on stage, so we couldn’t hear ourselves in the house. We were running 20 minutes behind. I had a couple wardrobe malfunctions here or there, so I might’ve made some late entrances just making sure that our costumes were OK. It was just one of those days were everything that could go wrong did go wrong. But the show must go on. We got to the mega mix and I was so happy because we made it. We did it! I was in it, and I was happy and there was wonderful crowd and energy. I started doing the moves and I could feel the wig slipping off. Once it fell off, I threw it off stage and just said “let’s keep going because I got to go home.” That was my initial thought. “I’m starving and we’ve got to go home.” *laughs* I just didn’t know it was gonna blow up the way that it did. I just thought of it as, “It fell off. I threw it. We continue and I’ll go put the wig on at the end and talk about live shows and live theater and how sometimes you just gotta dance your wig off.” I just didn’t know would take off like that. I woke up in the morning and everybody was telling me I was on Good Morning America. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I mean, my phone was flooded and I didn’t look at my phone for almost a week because of all of the pictures, emails and texts. Now I think it’s cool cause it’s a reminder why people love theatre. There’s nothing like live theater, and when you see that it just gives you the adrenaline. It was definitely something that I’ve learned to appreciate the attention from.

I know so many people are excited for the show and there’s such a love for theatre and the arts here in Omaha. Do you have any words for anyone who still might be holding out on securing those tickets for the show next week?

I would say, “What are you waiting for? If you want an inspirational rock concert that will get you through, take three hours of your time and come see a show that will allow you to escape and forget the world, but will also remind you that you can keep pushing and keep going. Purchase those tickets!"

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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