‘Tina’ Musical Star Dawnn Lewis Reveals How Her Experience With Abuse Helps Her Portray Tina Turner’s Mother

As the highly-anticipated Tina Turner musical makes its way to Broadway, actress Dawnn Lewis spoke to HL about portraying Turner's mom, Zelma.

Dawwn Lewis
View gallery
Image Credit: Paige Kindlick

Dawnn Lewis has returned to New York City and the Broadway stage in the role of Zelma Currie, Tina Turner‘s mother, in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Ahead of opening night on November 7, 2019, Dawnn visited HollywoodLife and spoke about Tina’s complicated relationship with her mother and revealed how her own experience with abuse informed her portrayal of the character. “A lot of it resonated with me because I grew up in a violent household. I grew up with a mother that had to make choices that were hard choices for her, but at the end of the day, they were the best choices that she could have made for us where she had to step away for a minute to give herself a stronger foundation,” Dawnn revealed in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HL. “I can imagine that the fact that her mother stepped away from the family when Tina was young to save herself and leave her child — there was probably a part of her that thought, ‘I will never do that.'”

Recall, Tina Turner’s 16-year marriage to Ike Turner was incredibly violent, but Dawnn surmises that she stayed with him early on as a result of her childhood trauma, when Zelma left her back with her abusive father. “You deal with self-worth, with abandonment issues, with relationship issues, with seeing violence in your home and ending up being in a violent relationship yourself,” the actress explained. “There’s a part of you that as much as you know that it’s wrong, recognizes or maybe even possibly believe that this is what love is, that this is just what happens in relationships and you just kind of power through it. You work through it because of the kids.”

While Zelma and Tina didn’t have the strongest relationship, Dawnn revealed that Zelma was very proud of her daughter. “There’s a documentary piece that included Tina, Zelma and her sister Alline, and what you learned was that they all kind of sound alike — this little raspy edge to their voices. They have very grounded personalities., and my impression was that while they can probably be fun in the right setting, they’re also very serious people,” she detailed. “I got that they are very self confident and self aware. They are very proud and aware of what Tina has accomplished, but at the same time I think they want to be known for their own personal character and identity, as well.”

Paige Kindlick for HollywoodLife

Dawnn continued, “So, I try to bring that to Zelma when I portray her within the show because everybody has challenges. So no one is all bad. No one is all good. There are different facets and sides, so wherever I’m able, I try to incorporate that into the various lines and opportunities that I get.”

Tickets are currently on sale now for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York!

More From Our Partners