‘She Dreamed a Dream’
From ‘Les Miserables’ to ‘FourTina’, Nurlaila Wolda-Karim saw big and got big! Today, everyone wonders if she will land the role of Tina Turner in the upcoming TINA Musical! We talked about it a couple of days ago in Rotterdam.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands. A weekend that starts with Grace Jones can only turn into an unusual and crazy weekend. First, a short detour by Paris on Friday to say a quick hello to Warhol & Goude’s muse who was signing her autobiography (I’ll Never Write My Memoirs – Simon & Schuster) at the very chic, Rive Gauche, ‘Bon Marché’. Always thrilling to approach people of that caliber and who have a lot in common with Tina. But not much time to spend there and to get emotional. I am expected to be in Amsterdam the next day to visit a few places we want to book for TINA77, our annual Fan Birthday Party, and the weekend is supposed to end in Rotterdam with an interview.
After a hectic Saturday in the Dutch capital, the moment to meet, not only a big Tina fan but also a great artist is finally here! And of course, it is one of those typically rainy Dutch Sunday evenings. The coldness of the wind explains the emptiness of the streets. My friend Angelique, who arranged the meeting, and I are expected to be at our rendez-vous at 17.00, in an apartment located in the city center. The building looks new and modern, upper Dutch middle class, offering a good idea of comfort.
As we came out of the elevator, standing behind a big entrance door, the hostess of the evening greets us with an illuminating smile on her face which makes you fall for her immediately. Nurlaila Karim that is. Nurlaila, Nur (‘The Light’ in Arabic) is petite, dark haired, elegant and refined, all in black, wearing a top that lets a part of her shoulders show (very ‘Turneresque’ and we would find out only later that evening that it was actually a former stage outfit!) and yes, she does make you think of a ‘younger version’, of the legend who reunites us all tonight.
We are invited to enter inside the spacious, cozy living room where awards meets kid’s toys and designer furniture. Nurlaila’s husband and now manager, Muriel is here, as well as their three glorious children, all of them future stars of their own. The place is warm, the wine is served, a light and sweet smell of Indonesian food starts permeating the room but that’s for later! For now the stories begin.
“I was in the production of ‘Les Miserables ‘, and the people there, called me ‘Little Tina’ because I had a thing I was doing before going on stage, I was doing like this (she imitates one of Tina’s trademark leg movement) with my legs and you know, I was imitating her and everyone was laughing. And since I was playing the role of Fantine, the character who sings the song ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, the other actors started calling me ‘Fantina’ and it became a gimmick. Of course the original Fantine is blonde blue-eyed and I was a dark girl who had kind of a ‘soulish’ voice but that’s how it came about…”
Somehow it seems that the gimmick Fantina would later lead to something more important. A dream Nur always wanted to fulfill… After watching the 1993 biopic movie recalling Ike & Tina Turner’s tumultuous relationship, “What’s Love Got To Do With It!?”, she felt Tina had reached her in a way she did not expected.
“I saw the movie and it totally moved me. And from then on I started to listen to more and more of her music. And so around those times (early 90’s) I also decided to write a story about a woman who struggles with her life, not Tina’s story but I wanted to perform Tina’s songs in between the story. So I gave the script to people but they didn’t like it, and I was thinking, “Yes, who am I ?”. And I just left it there.”
About seven years ago, after years on stage, Nurlaila stopped appearing in Musicals. Despite winning a Dutch Musical Award for ‘Best Performance by a Female in a Leading Role’ (for Rent) in 2001, the artist aimed for another direction.
“I wanted to teach children and I started to study because I wanted to coach them. On the first day of my training, we had a thing called the ” Dream Session ” and the big question was “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? “. And I was thinking, I want a big coaching company, I want to help singers, young and old… That kind of thing. But there was something more… And I thought it was impossible, that I didn’t have the money for it, nor the logistics…”
But of course, when Impossible & Tina Turner meet, you can be sure that the result will be explosive…
“My biggest dream was, of course, to be able to interpret Tina’s songs on stage but I thought no one would want to see me perform Tina. Anyway, the first step we had to do during that first “Dream Session” was to accomplish something that would eventually lead us to achieve our dream. And so I simply thought, I am going to call the booker and tell him I am going to do a show about Tina and let’s see! Like that! And I made the call. And this guy, the booker knows about my passion for Tina cause we went together to a Tina Turner Tribute fifteen years ago and I remember telling him “I want to do a Tina show, I want to do a Tina show!” and I knew he would also remember. So fifteen years later, I called him, as a first step to fulfill my dream and said “Chris, I am going to do the Tina show and it’s going to be called Fourtina!”
And sometimes with a bit of luck, faith and lot of hard work, things start to pay off. Nurlaila had envisioned a show called ‘Fourtina’ , in reference to Tina of course but also to her own age and what happens after you’ve reached the age of forty years old: ‘Fourti’ as the number forty in Dutch and ‘Na’ translated into ‘After’ in English. So literally ” After Forty”, which gives “Fourtina” in the tongue of Vondel. A show she wished to present in Rotterdam on her 40th birthday, before opening a new chapter in her life.
“The next day, I had a phone call from the booker telling me “I sold 10 dates!”. And I was flabbergasted! Ten shows and we were in January so that’s less than a year of preparation plus the March deadline for theaters which meant that all our material had to be ready in two months, so they could be added to the upcoming season program.
I was doing Sister Act (yes the part of Whoopi/Dolores) at that time and since the March deadline had to be respected, I asked two dancers that were performing on the show to pose with me between two performances for a photoshoot for ‘Fourtina’ . My make-up artist made the pictures while the lighting electricians were yelling “Hurry up! We have a show to do!”. And that’s how we did the first promo photos!”
And from scratch, a bit of improvisation, Muriel, ‘left a good job in the city’ and started, together with Nur, their own production company, TheDreamLab. And gave life to the dream Fourtina.
“I had already made the script, again it wasn’t Tina’s life but it was such a sad tragic story that I thought the people would hang themselves if they saw this. So, I cut all the stories and kept only the songs. I started with ‘A Fool In Love’ because, me too, I’ve been a fool in love. And people thought they were just coming to see a concert but there was a story with the song order and of course within the lyrics of the songs. I loved singing ‘Help’ and other songs like ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and ‘Be Tender’ that I was doing to close the show. And my outfits changed throughout the evening from dark to start to bright and white colors as a happy ending.”
And a happy ending it was for Fourtina. From 10 dates booked after a gutsy phone call, the show ended touring 48 theaters around The Netherlands and Belgium, earning the couple a respect from their fellow musical peers and maybe more importantly, the esteem of the audience. And, as we are watching videos of Nur performances on Youtube, I am stunned by the vocal power such a tiny lady can deliver and the new vibe she brings to Tina’s songs is impressive.
“I have never wanted to imitate her, it’s impossible, and that wasn’t my intention with that show. Of course ‘Proud Mary’ you have to do the choreography, although I changed it a bit I have to admit. But I wanted to be myself, sometimes my toes can get a bit curly when I see someone trying to duplicate her. I have sung with a lot of musicians in a lot of different musicals and with Tina’s music and songs, I have never had any vocal issues, I never have to ‘overdue’ my voice, it’s my range and I enjoy it!”
And it seems that she is not the only one who enjoys it. With the critical success of Fourtina and the spotlight back on Nurlaila, who knows what her next step’s going to be. Her career (she started as a professional at the age of 15) is filled with lead parts in musicals, recordings, TV commercials (Google Albert Heijn – The Wiz – Reclame) and voice overs in blockbusters such as Harry Potter, Pixar’s ‘Up’ or Disney’s ‘Hannah Montana’. And their newly born production company TheDreamLab is flourishing with four exciting productions of new artists that will hit the stage soon!
TINA, The Musical
But! Of course, there’s a but, there might be something more to add to their agenda soon… The longtime rumored, the ’Arlésienne’ of theatrical production, the Dune of Musicals, you’ve guess it, The TINA Musical.
We have been talking about it for months on the Tina Blog (and for years among nerdy fans) and with Tina’s appearance and official endorsement of the project last January at the Dutch Musical Awards, it seems that it will finally see the light of the day, in a vague near future. Some say an opening in September 2017 and there also seem to be discussions about the choice of ‘Opening City’. But still, it is long overdue and about time to see a big budget production with a good screenplay and a solid casting about Turner’s immense life and legacy.
77 years ago, in 1939, in the year Tina was born, the casting for the part of Scarlett ‘O’ Hara in ‘Gone With The Wind’ was raging among the biggest actresses of the time. In 2016, the ‘War of Roses’ between actresses might rise again for the part of the ‘Modern-Female-Soul-Survivor’. And who loves stories like that more than the press? A few weeks ago a Dutch tabloid issued a story, featuring Nurlaila, stating that Joop Van Den Ende, a former boss of hers, a big shot in the Dutch musical industry and the producer of the new TINA Musical was still very fond of her. Some insiders even say that she is almost confirmed for the part. Actually one of the three parts since there are supposed to be three different Tina characters, representing the singer at three different stages of her life.
“I didn’t hear anything, we didn’t hear anything, about it. We know it’s going to be big, that there’s been rumors leaked in the press but we didn’t get approached. I saw Joop at the Dutch Awards when he got his Lifetime Achievement Award, I was very happy for him and of course to see Tina! I had to try my best not to cry or be too emotional but it was a very special moment and concerning her part in the musical, of course it would be, again, a dream for me… “
Dreams. If there’s one thing we all have learned from Tina is that no matter who you are or where you come from, you should never give up on your dreams. And it is about time to have some and to leave our hosts with, let’s admit it, stars in our eyes. There’s still so many stories and anecdotes to tell but the kids are having their own dreams and we don’t want to outlast our welcome. We all quietly, warmly, hug each other goodbye, wishing one another the best for the future, knowing we’ll see each other soon, one way or another…
“Het is stil in Amsterdam” sang Ramses Shaffy but it is cold in Rotterdam… The Dutch night is dark, it’s raining and the wind is still blowing. But the light will be back, for now our dreams are waiting for us.
Nurlaila Karim & TheDreamLab will bring a special representation of Fourtina on the island of Aruba in June 2017. More details soon on NurlailaKarim.nl
Photo Copyright: Mischa Muijlaert & TheDreamLab .