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Tina Turner musical: Ashley Zhangazha talks playing Ike

A POWERFUL PERFORMANCE: Ashley Zhangazha plays Ike Turner on stage (photo: Manuel Harlan)

TINA – THE Tina Turner Musical celebrated its 500th performance on June 29. Self-confessed Manchester United fan Ashley Zhangazha plays Ike Turner – husband, musician, songwriter and record producer – in the hit West End production.

A pioneer of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, Ike is most popularly remembered for his work and relationship in the 1960s and 1970s with his then-wife Tina Turner.

Zhangazha lives in north London and is a mentor at both the National Youth Theatre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is a passionate advocate for increased access to the arts and further diversity in the industry. This week he talks to Life & Style about taking on the challenging role, critical support from his Zimbabwean parents and shaping his own stories…

Life & Style: How did it feel to land the role of the infamous Ike Turner?
Ashley Zhangazha: I was really excited! It was quite a long process. I met the creative team a few times and had to do lots of scenes; it was quite a rigorous process. I knew how big the show was and how it was received. It was a great thing to get the part.

ON STAGE: Ashley Zhangazha in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, which recently had its 500th West End performance (photo: Manuel Harlan)

L&S: When did acting become a thought for you?
AZ: I started acting when I was quite young. I went to a local youth theatre in north London.

My mum and dad thought acting would get me out of the house, as I was quite a shy child. It was an opportunity to meet others at eight or nine but I never thought it would end up as a career. I somehow managed to get some professional work with West End musicals when I was younger and some TV jobs and it all developed from there. I didn’t see a place for me in the industry so it took a while to convince myself.

L&S: Was the lack of diversity within the acting/ theatre industry a reason for some of your early doubts?
AZ: Yes. Growing up I didn’t see people like myself, or you just see a couple of faces. At the time it wasn’t a viable career option, at best I thought it might just be a hobby.

It was through a lot of people having belief in me that I made it, particularly my parents, who instilled in me to reach for my dreams. So it was them, and a lot of good teachers along the way, that encouraged me to take the plunge.

L&S: You also have a brother who is also an actor, don’t you?
AZ: Yes! Mitchell is about nine years younger than me. We talk a lot about the business and I do sometimes try to give him advice as the older brother.

That said, I think he’s got a lot more talent than me. He’s a fantastic singer and has just come out of a run of Motown The Musical. It’s nice to have him in the industry. We share stories and as much as I offer him help, he offers me help too.

L&S: How influential has Sir Lenny Henry been in your career?
I played a younger version of Lenny in the BBC variety show Lenny Goes To Town two decades ago. Then six years ago we did a play called Fences together. It’s been inspiring working with him and I admire the work he’s doing in terms of diversity within the industry.

He’s trying to get the gatekeepers to make the landscape more representative of the world we live in.

He’s a good man. I hope he succeeds with what he’s trying to do and I think he’s made big strides. He’s not afraid to ask the difficult questions.

It’s on all of us to continually bang the drum in terms of race, class and gender. Hopefully we’ll all reap the benefits sooner rather than later.

L&S: Have you met the icon that is Tina Turner, and if you did what would you say to her?
AZ: I’ve not met her but I know that she’s come to see the show. God, if I did meet her I think I would be pretty star-struck. I’d probably bow down at her feet!

I’ve done a lot of research on her life and I think she’s just an amazing woman with incredible strength. She had a tumultuous early life, both personally and professionally. The way that she overcame that made her into the star she is today and her back catalogue of music is truly inspiring.

L&S: What’s so special about Tina – the Tina Turner Musical?
AZ: It’s a great night out. I’m in the show, so I would say that. What you have is amazing music. There’s the music that people know in terms of the hit records.

What you also get is some songs that Tina did that you won’t know as well. The Ike and Tina back catalogue has some great tunes, which was a real education for me actually. There’s a great story which makes for a powerful evening.

L&S: What’s next for Ashley Zhangazha?
AZ: I want to continue to have challenging roles. I’m really interested in TV/screen work.

I want to create my own work as well.

I’ve got the bug to do some directing. I’m a believer that if you want change, sometimes you have to create it for yourself.

I want to shape stories that I would like to see.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is currently booking to January 11, 2020 at the Aldwych Theatre, London. Visit tinathemusical. com.

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