Stephanya Barranti stars as the title performer in Simply the Best: a Tribute to the Music of Tina Turner, which runs at Sammy’s Showroom in Harrah’s Reno, 219 N. Center St., through June 30. For tickets or more information, visit www.caesars.com/harrahs-reno.
Why Tina Turner? What draws you to her music?
We’d listen to records a lot at home. … I was just a little kid. I couldn’t have been any more than 5, 6, 7 years old. And whenever Tina Turner records would come on, my parents said I would get up in the middle of the floor, and I would just start doing this wiggling thing. And I only did it with Tina Turner records and Aretha Franklin records. … I spent several years in China about 10 years ago, and I performed at this really beautiful nightclub where there were travelers that came from all over the world. And there was one gentleman that came in that loved Tina Turner. And every time he came to the club, he would ask me to sing a Tina Turner song. … Well, I said, I know all the words to, like, three. And he said, well, can you learn more? And every week he’d come back, and I’d learn a different song … to the point where I had an entire album of Tina Turner songs.
What was your gig in China?
I was just singing. It happens a lot—especially in Asian countries like Japan and China, the Philippines, Thailand, places like that—they will bring in American singers—especially soul, rock, R&B singers. … They really enjoyed my performances. And I was doing Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight—all of those great legends.
For your show, are you doing mostly ’60s stuff or later stuff?
I’m really all over the board. It starts with the ’60s. You have to start with where people first recollect her. And that is with Ike & Tina. So, I start the show there, but then I run through almost a whole life of her music. … Also, I have a special guest, who I’m not going to tell you who that is. … And I change that special guest out throughout the show—so you never know who you’re going to see.
Sammy’s Showroom is a great sounding room and also historic.
That room has stolen my heart. … I’m a spiritual person—not necessarily religious, but very spiritual—and there are definitely arms in there that will wrap themselves around you in that room. It is such a warm feeling. And downstairs in the dressing rooms—I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to walk through there—they have all of the photographs of every headliner who’s ever performed there. Sammy [Davis, Jr]’s dressing room is exactly the same way it was when Sammy performed there. There’s also another room, a lounge where Sammy and the Rat Pack and Frank Sinatra and all those guys would go and sit and smoke their cigars. … Performing on that stage, once I walk out onto that stage, I really feel like they’re all there, going, “You go, girl!” … I know it sounds corny, and you may not believe in that kind of thing, but it does exist in that room. … This show is not just me and a band playing Tina Turner songs. It’s a 14-member cast. It’s truly a production, and it’s different every night. We have a full rhythm section, which includes a saxophone player; four dancers, which is really cool; two background singers; and, like I said, a special guest that changes frequently. As a matter of fact, another change is taking place this weekend with one of Tina’s really old friends. It’s going to make this show a lot of fun. We’ve had Rod Stewart in for a little bit. We had Michael Jackson in for a little while.
Oh! Do I tell or do I not? I guess you’ll have to come.