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In the Broadway musical Tina, legendary character actress Myra Lucretia Taylor radiates tough love as Gran "GG" Georgeanna, who tells Tina Turner she has a gift and inspires her to pursue her rock 'n' roll dreams. For Taylor, there wasn't one relative who encouraged her acting aspirations—it was her entire family. "This was what I wanted to do, and no one ever stopped me," she says. "I just loved the way I was gently and implicitly supported. My grandmother only went to third grade, but she had amazing jobs, and she was very responsible and practical. My mother became a nurse and my dad worked for the transit authority. And then I became an artist. You would think my parents would have been like, 'No, you have to get a job with benefits. You need to know where your next meal is coming from.' But no one ever put that pressure on me. And I think that's amazing."
Born in South Carolina and raised in New York City, Taylor realized she wanted to become a performer in fifth grade, when she played Mama Bear in a Spanish-language production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears—truly a character actress from the get-go. She studied voice at Music and Art High School (now part of LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts), attended Yale and began booking roles on stage in her twenties, with many fruitful summers at the Williamstown Theater Festival.
However, like all character actresses, Taylor's theatre career got busier and more eclectic with age: a wise prostitute who got up close and personal with Antonio Banderas in Nine; a no-nonsense headmistress with glorious side-eye in School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play; an influential Ugandan church lady in The Rolling Stone. And she's appeared in countless classics, including Macbeth and Electra on Broadway, and as Prospero in The Tempest for The Public Theater's Mobile Unit, a powerful performance that uncovered a maternal streak in the vengeful sorcerer.
She projects a similar mix of fierceness and warmth as Tina Turner's grandmother. "I'm not a mom, but in those moments, I get to be a lot of things that I recognize," Taylor explains. "Moms can be soft and wonderful. And then sometimes, they have to grab you by the nape of your neck and say, 'Time is passing, ticktock, and you've got a gift. I'm gonna kick you out of the nest, you gonna have to fly. And it's gonna break my heart. But that is my job.' I guess that's something I respond to as a human being. If you're a mom, or a mom figure, that is a deep and sacred responsibility. And it's just very moving to me to be able to embody that every night."
After opening to strong reviews in October 2019, Tina, like all shows on Broadway and beyond, was forced to take an 18-month pandemic pause starting in March 2020. During that time, Taylor was nominated for her first Tony Award and shot a pilot, knowing that, once theatres reopened, she had a show to go back to. "We are all here living and working and paying our rent because of Tina Turner," Taylor says.
She returned to Tina when it resumed performances in fall 2021. With the production wrapping up its run on August 14, Taylor is feeling grateful, not just for the opportunity to bring Tina Turner's tumultuous yet inspiring story to audiences, but also for the ways the theatre industry is changing, albeit slowly, in response to demands for more diversity, equity and inclusion.
"There are so many more stories to be told than have been told," she says. "Look at what's happening with A Strange Loop. It's such a cool, heartbreaking and heartwarming story about someone living their life. That's why Thornton Wilder called theatre the 'greatest of the arts.' It's human beings sharing with other human beings what it is to be a human being."
At the Tina stage door, Taylor has experienced that connection firsthand (although these days, due to you-know-what, she keeps her distance and her mask on). "When people recognize me as GG, they have tears in their eyes, because they will remember their own grandmothers," she says. "People need a lot of healing. They need to know that they're loved and seen. I miss sharing hugs, because we would often hug, and you can change the world like that."
Top image: Nkeki Obi-Melekwe and Myra Lucretia Taylor in Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan.