Simply the Best
In just a decade onstage, 32-year-old actress Adrienne Warren has already made a major splash in the pool of musical theater. She first caught audiences’ attention portraying the role of sassy Lorrell Robinson in the 2009 touring production of “Dreamgirls,” took Broadway by storm in 2012 as high school cheerleader Danielle in the joyful “Bring It On,” and stole the spotlight in 2016’s star-studded “Shuffle Along,” earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her dual roles of divalicious actress Gertrude Saunders and the more demure Florence Mills.
But Warren’s slow-if-steady rise to the top shot up like a rocket the second she stepped on the stage of London’s Aldwych Theatre in the spring of 2018 as the legendary rock goddess Tina Turner in the biomusical “Tina.” She received raves from the critics, who used words such as “astonishing” and “star-making” to describe her work—and she earned a coveted Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
Now, after a fairly brief hiatus, Warren is once again tackling this iconic role at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, shimmying and shaking through such hit songs as “Private Dancer,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “Proud Mary.” Warren spoke to IN New York about the challenges of the part, what she has personally learned from Tina Turner, why she is so happy to be finally back in New York City, and what fellow performer would “freak her out” if she came to the show.
HOW DID YOU GET THE ROLE OF TINA?
I had a very unconventional way of getting involved in the show. I was asked to be part of the first table read in 2016, but when I went to my agent’s office to pick up the script, I did not know what it was going to be. When I saw that it was “Tina,” I thought, “This will be great!” And then I asked what part they wanted me to read. I never figured it was actually Tina.
WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT?
First, I idolized Tina so much as a kid, I really thought no one can play her. But I really didn’t think anyone would see me as her when I had just done “Shuffle Along,” which was set in the 1920s and used more traditional Broadway music. Eventually, I did ask someone why they wanted me, and I found out the great casting director Bernie Telsey had given them my name. He knew rock ’n’ roll was always in my blood. In fact, I was in a rock band in college, and I later toured with the Jim Steinman Band and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I’ve come full circle, in a way.
ONCE YOU GOT THE PART—WHICH I HEAR TINA PERSONNALLY PICKED YOU FOR—WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU DO FOR THE ROLE?
I read her autobiography, “I, Tina,” immediately, and then I watched as many YouTube videos of her as I could find. But it wasn’t so much about the research; I had to find it in myself to become the best Adrienne I could be to become the best Tina I could be. There is so much responsibility in sharing her story, both as a fan and a performer, that I literally changed my body and my voice in order to capture her energy and style. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so I was very relieved when the audiences in London liked what they saw. I think when you’re onstage in a part like this, you know that if the show doesn’t work, it’s really all on you!
OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, YOU HAVE BECOME FRIENDLY WITH TINA. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM HER, BOTH ABOUT BEING A PERFORMER AND BEING A WOMAN?
First, Tina taught me there are no shortcuts as a performer. What we do is hard work, and you have to do the work. Second, and more important than anything else, she has taught me the importance of believing in yourself, especially when no one else is there for you. She always says you have to find something to push you onto the path you want to take, and then you take it, and then you remember that there is no obstacle you can’t overcome. She has an inner strength that is so admirable; it’s why she and her music resonate so strongly after all these years. You can hear her tenacity in every breath she takes and see it in every move she makes.
THIS SHOW IS SO EXHAUSTING THAT YOU’RE ONLY DOING SIX SHOWS A WEEK. IN FACT, I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO DO IT AGAIN IN NEW YORK AFTER THE LONDON RUN. DID THAT THOUGHT EVER CROSS YOUR MIND?
I didn’t ever think I wouldn’t do it, but I wasn’t sure my body would make it. It was particularly hard for me in London, because I didn’t have my family or personal support system nearby. But now I feel ready to do it again. And I feel really grateful to have the opportunity.
HOW MUCH DOES IT MEAN TO YOU NOW THAT YOU’RE BACK IN NEW YORK CITY?
I’ve loved this city my entire life. I grew up in Virginia, and I first came to visit when I was 10. We saw Heather Headley in “The Lion King” (she was the original Nala), and I told my mom during the show, “This is what I want to do.” I don’t think she was thrilled. But I did everything I could to be able to come here and then get to Broadway, including going to Marymount Manhattan College. Of course, that said, I never thought it would lead to playing Tina!
OTHER THAN YOUR “SUPPORT SYSTEM,” WHAT DID YOU MISS MOST ABOUT NEW YORK DURING YOUR TIME IN LONDON?
Honestly, I really missed having my Broadway community around. Our theaters are so close together here, which isn’t true over there. I barely saw anyone in London. I felt very isolated. Now, I can just pop over to Restaurant Row, which has a lot of my favorite places, to get lunch or a drink with friends or my fellow actors. That makes me so happy!
YOU HAD A LOT OF CELEBRITY VISITORS IN LONDON, INCLUDING THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF SUSSEX, OPRAH WINFREY AND BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, TO NAME A FEW. WHOM DO YOU MOST WANT TO COME SEE THE SHOW HERE?
I’d really love the Obamas to come. And then there’s Beyoncé, although I don’t think I could actually go onstage if I knew she was in the audience! Knowing she was there would just freak me out.
SO HOW DO YOU TOP PLAYING TINA TURNER?
I don’t think you do. Artistically, this show is probably the most fulfilled I will ever be in musical theater, and that’s OK! But there are other things I want to do. I want to produce; I want to create work for other artists; and when I come back onstage, I think I’d like to do it in a play. Don’t worry, I’m not going to retire. All I can do is just keep moving forward.