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Hitting the High Notes

Parris Lewis shines in TINA – The Tina Turner Musical.

Parris Lewis as Tina Turner in the North American touring production of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical (Photography By Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Parris Lewis is full of contradictions. She is a member of the LGBTQ community but does not identify as lesbian or queer. She grew up in a house filled with gospel music but trained to be an opera singer. And she looks like the laid-back, cool girl next door but she plays the pop icon Tina Turner onstage.

“I was that very outspoken, very performative kid, always wanted to entertain, and my dad really supported my imagination. And my mom was already a singer,” Lewis says.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Lewis’ mother sang gospel music and her sister was a dancer. So it seemed only natural that she sang gospel on Sundays and took up dance professionally. Somewhere along the way, she says, “I kind of just realized that dance wasn’t really something that I felt was mine. I was auditioning for dance, and one day I got off the dance line and got on the vocal line.”

Her interest in classical music began when her music teacher played the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute for her class. She was stunned and excited when the teacher explained that those “really high notes” were not a musical instrument, but the soloist’s voice. She relives the excitement that she felt that day: “I just remember going home and being on fire and telling my parents I learned about this new ‘opera’ thing today, and I wanted to do that. Every day I would get in the shower and I would practice singing these high notes that I heard my teacher play.”

A voice teacher and gospel choir director in Harlem also taught classical music, and that’s where Lewis’ formal training began. Having found her direction, she studied classical music at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, but later switched her major to education, earning a degree in K–12 music education while studying to be an opera singer. After college, she won roles in national tours of The Color Purple and Hairspray, as well as in Stonewall at the New York City Opera and Pray at Ars Nova, among other New York productions.

“I don’t have a background in musical theater,” Lewis explains. “I tell people all the time: I’m a choir kid, and that foundation of being a choir kid, that discipline of being a classical student, led me here. That background of doing dance, because my sister was dancing, gave me the skill level. I can catch on, and I can practice and grow. To me, it was a beautiful combination leading me to where I am.”

And now, she is portraying the woman who is, well, “simply the best.”

“I am so enthralled with being authentic,” she says, “watching myself shapeshift for this role to be the icon that is Tina Turner. People see a lot of Tina’s journey and how much she overcame. You’ve got to have thick skin to be able to do that. And to be able to even try to emulate all that has been a feat in and of itself.”

Lewis’s excitement about her performance is palpable as she talks about the challenges of the role: “Singing this colossal score, 22 to 23 songs every time that I’m on, that’s an incredible feat.”

What can audiences expect when they see the show in Houston this month? “I tell them to expect a thrill ride,” Lewis says. “A thrill ride of love, hope, turmoil, grace, triumph, and joy. There are so many heavy moments in our show, but there are also so many light, beautiful, exciting moments.”

Find Parris Lewis on Instagram @renaissancewoman_.


What: TINA – The Tina Turner Musical
When: January 2–7
Where: Hobby Center for the Performing Arts
Info: tinyurl.com/5n7yc7zr

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Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from New York Times to Huffington Post to Playboy and is the author of four books, including “Be That Unicorn: Find your Magic. Live your Truth. Share your Shine." She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio to Great Day Houston and has performed and spoken at bookstores, events, conferences, and resorts in the US and Mexico, as well as on Holland America Cruise ships.
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