Adrienne Warren on How Playing Tina Turner Has Changed Her Life
It’s been a year of firsts for Adrienne Warren. Before she came to London in 2018 to star as the titular music icon in “Tina” on the West End, she had never been to Europe. She had never sung rock ‘n’ roll in a musical (though she grew up loving the genre and was even in a band at 18). And she had never headlined a show.
Now, over a year later, Warren can check off all those boxes. After spending a year abroad, she’s harnessed her rock side onstage and is working on a new album. And she’s earned an Olivier nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
“That sounds crazy,” she says with a laugh when I mention the honor, and she notes that it feels somewhat similar to when she was nominated for a Tony Award for “Shuffle Along” and yet different at the same time.
“It means so much because no one really knows me here, I’m the new girl in town, you know what I mean?” Warren says. “They haven’t really seen my growth or my progression. They haven’t seen me grow up like people in New York have.”
Sitting backstage in her dressing room at the Aldwych Theatre, Warren looks calm and collected in a t-shirt and jeans. She’s enjoyed showing her rock side onstage and is looking forward to showcasing her chops again in New York.
“It’s a full circle moment for me, because I think a lot of people in theater didn’t know about that part of me or that side of me as an artist,” says Warren, who also toured with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in college. “For my first theater audition in New York, I think I showed up in leather pants.”
TodayTix sat down with Warren to discuss her journey with “Tina,” what she’s learned along the way, and where she’s going next.
How does it feel looking back at your time in the show?
This was unlike anything that I’ve ever, ever tackled before — and I probably ever will tackle — in my career. If you’re lucky in your career, you get to do things that challenge you, but if you’re really, really lucky, you get to do things that scare you, and this role scared me. I thought there’s no way I could possibly do this, and so I’m just proud that I persevered and I pushed through even in the tough times when it was really, really hard and I thought I was going to fail. Like truthfully, I thought I was going to fail.
I don’t know any role that requires singing 24-plus songs, doing choreography, and then in between that choreography, getting beat up. I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t think I was strong enough for that. How do I sustain that throughout the week, or throughout the year even and not lose my voice and stay as strong as I possibly can? It did require all of the discipline that I possibly had, but I’m grateful for it now because I’m way stronger than I ever imagined I was.
How do you keep yourself healthy?
Before I got here, I was in more of a set routine physically. I trained in boxing at AEROSPACE boxing gym in New York. I do voice lessons with Liz Caplan every single week. Aside from that, I sleep as much as I can. If I’m tired, I sleep. I listen to my body.
What has playing Tina taught you as a performer?
She’s taught me that there are no shortcuts to hard work; there are no shortcuts to success. And she’s taught me that the second I think I can’t do it, there’s always a little bit more gas in your tank. You actually can. I think that’s a lesson that I am so, so grateful for, to walk away feeling that way. I feel like a different person than when I arrived here.
Are you still a fan of the music after performing it for so long?
Major, major. I still listen to her music at home. I’m not sick of it. I don’t think I’ll ever be. I think it’s because I was a fan of hers first, and the music is just so good. The band here, we are really, really tight, and it’s very rare that you get to work so closely with the band in creating music like this, because the show is about the music, you know? A lot of people come to hear the music, and so we kind of play it like a gig, even though the storyline is intense and we have a lot themes going on here. We stay true to her story, but it is about the music and that’s really, really important to me.
Do you feel like a rock star onstage?
Yeah, in a way. Tina was really, really involved in the early process of the show and one thing she always taught me is she performs for her audience. She really, really connects with people in her audience and she will walk around and will look you in your eye. You feel like she’s only singing to you; she’s only speaking to you. I really, really tried to implement that into the end of the show. I wish I had a GoPro on my head — I just wish that audience could actually see their faces. Some people close their eyes as if they’re hearing her for the first time, or remembering or being really nostalgic about the first time they went to a concert of hers.
That is my one moment where I feel like it’s Adrienne and Tina, because there’s something about looking at them and connecting with them that I have to actually be me in order to truly connect with them.
What was it like working with Tina? Did she give you any good advice?
All the good advice, yeah. I feel like saying it’s a dream come true is the biggest understatement. It’s like, what? Most of it was about working hard. She never really warmed up her voice; she never really warmed up her body. For a while, I was like, “I don’t really understand that.” But now, actually, I do understand it, because I don’t warm up that much. I feel like there is some kind of channeling going on here because it’s like you sing from your gut.
She is from the earth, that woman. She plants her feet and she just sings. She has like a stance that she stands in when she performs, and it’s her feet are shoulder-width apart and she just looks very strong and planted, and somewhat like in a slight demi plié. She’s like power, strength, and her shoulders are really far back. I was like, “Oh, that’s just the way she stands when she performs.” Everybody has their isms, that’s just her thing. She pulled me aside one day and she was like, “Adrienne, do you know why I stand like that?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s just your power stance, that’s just how you stand.” She goes, “I stood like that because I couldn’t hit the notes.” It just kind of all put it together. Every single thing she does is for a reason.