Adrienne Warren, the Tony Award-winning star of TINA – The Tina Turner Musical is preparing to play Tina Turner for the third time. Warren originated the role in London at the Aldwych Theatre, in 2018, traveled with the show to Broadway in 2019, and after Broadway’s 19-month shutdown, Warren will re-open the bio-musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on October 8. She’s getting back into shape, both physically and mentally, to play a role that asks so much of her mind and body. We caught up with Warren to talk about performing for Tina Turner, coming back to the show, and passing the baton to other Black women.
With theatre coming back, we’re watching performing arts institutions rethink how they have or have not incorporated diversity and inclusion. As a Black actress, what are some of the challenges you faced in your journey on Broadway?
Where do we start? I’ve acknowledged my privilege in even having this conversation because I have been blessed enough to do roles I really care about and tell stories that are very important to me. And I have also had the opportunity to get close to a lot of people on the other side of the table where I am actually hearing a lot of the conversations around this subject. I get a little exhausted at the fact that we are continuing to have the same conversations. What’s happening is people will look to people like me and others who are directly affected by oppressive systems; asking us for a solution, asking us for resources, asking us for access. One thing I definitely know and have known my entire life, is white people have never been lacking access or resources. It becomes very frustrating to continue to come to those who are most directly affected for the answer to a problem that is actually in a system that has done nothing but upholds those who are of privilege. That becomes exhausting. It’s very taxing for all of us.
Did female leadership make you feel more comfortable playing Tina?
Definitely! It’s very rare that you have an opportunity to have this many female artists at the helm of a piece. I think it’s something really beautiful when you have women empowering each other to tell the story about a woman who’s empowered the world. I’m really grateful to have been able to do that with Tina Turner’s blessing and with her being a part of the process as well.
Can you talk about the first time where you performed for Tina Turner and what that conversation was like after?
The first time I performed in front of her was a workshop presentation in London. I believe it was the summer of 2016 or 17. I can’t remember exactly, but it was a long time ago. We did the whole show without the choreography, but just presented an idea of what the show would look like. And I was so nervous to meet her that I didn’t look at her the entire run. I got to “Proud Mary,” and realized in that moment, if I didn’t move on with this project that I wanted to at least savor that moment for myself to share with my future kids or grandkids and tell them that I did this. After I finished the presentation, I bowed at her feet. Then she brought me to my feet and hugged me and I wept in her arms. I cried because it was such an incredible moment meeting this woman after just brushing the surface of the amount of trauma and pain and resilience that this woman has. My respect for her was so unbelievably profound in that moment, even more so than just being a fan. So, I just fell apart in her arms and she was nothing but grace and beauty and light and love, and I’m really grateful for that.
Katori Hall said she knew you were perfect for Tina when she heard you sing “Private Dancer” at an early reading of the show. At what point did you know that you were the person for this role?
Oh, man! I don’t think I really thought I could play Tina until this Broadway run. Even in London, I was just doing my best. When you admire someone as much as I admire her, you’re just trying your hardest to do right by her and her story. I just was damn near killing myself to do what I thought I needed to do just to do right by her and to honor her. I think it’s taken me a very long time to actually accept and tell myself, “Hey, you are here. And there’s a reason why you’re here.” And, because I knew this was a very coveted role and I knew so many people auditioned for it, I didn’t see myself in it the way that other people saw me in it. I knew how much work I needed to do to do that. A little bit of imposter syndrome, but I’m grateful for it because it made me really put my head down and work.
You’ve been vocal about this being your third and last time preparing for this role. Does the rehearsal room feel any different now than before?
It feels unbelievably different because, for one, I completely forgot the show! I had been doing it for so long, but I walked into the rehearsal room the other day, and I was like, “what happened here?” And everyone’s looking at me like “what?” And to me that just says, I really took the time away. It’s nice to get back to the process of rehearsing, the process of actually getting to the root of the piece and the foundation of this story again. I think we all are completely different people than we were a few years ago, and before the pandemic happened. It’s really lovely to bring this new experience and perspective that I think I have and everyone in the room has, into the rehearsal space, as well as into the piece. It is just as hard as I remember, but this time around, I am going to have a bit more fun, because I think for a very long time, I felt as if I needed to prove myself. Not just to the industry, but to myself that I could do this job and do it well. And I have a little less of that with me now. Now I just want to enjoy it, enjoy just telling this story, and enjoy the audiences while I can. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to close out the chapter.
What’s the one moment on stage that brings you the most joy?
The end of the show. We do a mini-concert and I’m performing with The Ikettes and the entire audience gets into it, and the band gets into it, and we have a complete rock out session. Then, at one point, the entire cast gets to come on stage and dance and feel that joy with me. You just cannot beat that energy. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience because there’s so much joy happening in that space. And I feel like, not only am I at the helm of it, but I’m also watching it all happen and it’s truly a beautiful, beautiful moment because I could see all the faces. I know I don’t get to now, all I see is their eyes because everybody’s in a mask, but I’m still looking forward to that moment very much.
You’re preparing for your highly anticipated comeback, but you’re also getting ready to pass the baton to Nkeki Obi-Melekwe to play Tina full time after your departure. Do you feel like you’ve done the necessary work and you’re ready to hand it off to someone else?
I am thrilled and have been thrilled at the opportunity to create more space for incredible Black female performers. Initially, I was so excited at the idea that all around the world, this role will exist where Black women can have a job and be in the spotlight – how unbelievably exciting and inspiring that is. I couldn’t be happier to pass over the crown because I’ve had my light. I’ve had my time. It has been lovely. It has also been difficult, but I have had so many blessings out of this opportunity and it is time to share that and it is time to pass it on. I couldn’t be happier for the opportunity to do that.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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