Just before the start of the pandemic, Anu Ogunmefun was set to open in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, but with the show having to close ahead of the first performance, she finally made her West End debut in the musical in June last year, when the show was able to reopen at the Aldwych Theatre. In the musical, Anu is part of the Ensemble/one of the Ikettes and has also performed her cover role of Tina’s mother Zelma. Since graduating from The Urdang Academy, Anu has toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical as cover Mrs Phelps and around the UK and internationally with Mary Poppins. During the pandemic, Anu started her own business ArtByNU, after taking up drawing again. Anu answers our questions about appearing in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, covering Mrs Phelps in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and being in the cast of the Mary Poppins UK and International Tour.
You are currently making your West End debut in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, what are you enjoying most about being part of the musical?
I am and the show is incredible. I’m very lucky to have an amazing cast, especially the women amongst the cast. There’s such a sisterhood between us, one that I’ve never felt in a company before. And I’m so thankful for them all. I’ve learnt so much from them all. It feels like a genuine serendipity moment, that we were all meant to do this contract.
Was there anything that originally drew you to the show and what do you remember from your opening night?
Tina’s music has always been in the background of my life, as I’m sure it has many. I remember watching the biopic film What’s Love Got To Do With It with Angela Bassett late one night when I was younger. I was mesmerised, it really weirdly spoke to me at such young age. So to be in the musical, and tell her story is an honour.
I remember just thinking on opening night, after being shut down right before our first performance. I was looking out into the audience filled with people coming to watch theatre for the first time in so long, that we did it. We all did it. It genuinely felt so good.
Have you had any stand-out highlights from being in the show so far?
Being on for my cover, Zelma, who is Tina’s mum, was a great moment. She’s a juicy role within the musical. It was so lovely to get on for a while and get stuck in.
What are you looking forward to most for the rest of your run in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical?
It’s been quite a trying year, with COVID etc. So I’m just looking forward to continuing having fun with the company. And making some lasting memories!
Why would you recommend booking to see the show now it’s reopened in London?
Because this cast and company are absolute fire!
You have previously toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, how was the experience touring with the show?
Touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical was great. I had only just come off a long tour. So going away on another long tour was quite challenging. But getting to revisit some of my favourite cities like Manchester, Edinburgh etc was so lovely.
How was it covering the role of Mrs Phelps and what was she like to play?
Mrs Phelps was a lovely role to play. She’s such a beautifully warm character. Along with Miss Honey, she is one of the only positive people in Matilda’s life. She’s the role model we all needed as a kid.
How was your time touring the UK and internationally with Mary Poppins?
Mary Poppins will always have a special piece of my heart. It was my first big contract, and being able to dance Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear’s beautiful choreography every night was a dream. We had so much fun on that tour. I made friends for life, travelling the country and overseas. It was the perfect contract for that time of my life. And I will always be so thankful for it.
Was there anything you enjoyed most about performing with the touring production?
They were looking for a new Mrs Corry cover partway through the tour. And they asked me to audition. I was hesitant as I’d never covered before, but my friend Scott gave me the push do it. And I ended up becoming first cover.
I remember my first night on, my nan and grandad came to watch me. The pride coming from them when I saw them after is something I will never forget.
Can you tell us about some of your screen performances which has included Blue Peter and Strictly Come Dancing?
I love screen work, it’s a whole different ball game. It was such a joy to know some of your work will be archived for years to come.
Where does your love of acting and dance come from and how did you start?
I was definitely a right side of the brain kid. Always creating something. I was always heavily involved in anything drama-related growing up. I think that’s where my love for acting started. I used to act my favourite books, turning anything into a monologue. I was that kid!
Growing up I used to watch musicals with my grandad at the weekend. Then they put me into dance classes and that was that.
I’d say my grandad was a big part of why I’m doing what I do. He was very much my silent support.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at The Urdang Academy and how was it training there?
I remember auditioning for a few drama schools. The thing I loved about Urdang was I could see myself in the school. There was so much representation of black students and professionals. I’d never experienced it so much. I just felt at home pretty much straight away.
I wouldn’t have been able to go to drama school without funding. So when I was awarded a DaDA, it was like everything had aligned. A very proud moment for me.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
Anything that makes me feel a distinct emotion I’m here for. Make me laugh or make me cry I’m yours, haha. I also love watching new plays, anything to support upcoming voices. I think it’s so important.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love being crafty, I get a kick out of just making things. In lockdown I actually started drawing again and started my own small business. Selling my art and making my own hand-tufted rugs! If you want to check my stuff out:
@art_bynu on Instagram
ArtByNU on Etsy
If I’m not doing that I’m probably cooking, which I could spend hours doing, or sleeping!
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