It would be an understatement to say Adrienne Warren has come a long way from singing in the choir at her father’s church. The Chesapeake native and Tony Award-nominated actress now electrifies the Broadway stage as the titular icon in the highly acclaimed Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
Following her success in Shuffle Along, Warren took the stage as rock and roll icon, Tina Turner, in 2018 for the West End production in London then made her way back to the states last year for the show’s run in New York City.
With Broadway on hiatus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Warren has taken the opportunity to rediscover her own voice, reflect on what matters most to her and enjoy the simple things in life.
CoVa Mag: When did your interest in theater first begin?
Adrienne Warren: I went to go see a show in Norfolk, it was the Hurrah Players—I think it was Once Upon a Mattress. I was maybe six years old sitting in my mother’s lap in the auditorium, and I remember looking at the stage and then turning around and looking at her. I remember I said, ‘I want to do that.’ Sure enough, the next Hurrah Players show, she got me to audition. That’s where it all began!
How did your education at The Governor’s School shape you to be the performer you are today?
It was so impactful. The Governor’s School is such a special institution because it is a community of artists who maybe don’t feel so seen in their public high school. I always felt ignited when I was at The Governor’s School—ignited as an artist. I really think I took that work ethic with me when I left The Governor’s School. It definitely made me the performer and person I am today.
Do you have any advice for current students and recent graduates?
Never limit yourself to what you think you can do or what someone else thinks you can do. Keep your mind and your heart open at all times because you never know what can happen. There’s no end to what you can do when you continue to learn and continue to soak up what’s going on around you.
In what ways do you feel like you connect with Tina Turner that help you portray her on stage?
We have very similar backgrounds. She and I were both born in the South and grew up singing in the church. We were both tomboys growing up. We’re athletes, so that was one thing she and I connected on instantly when I started working on this production.
What advice or guidance did Tina Turner give you to help you prepare for this role?
So much. The biggest thing I took from her is that there are no shortcuts to hard work. She was facing agism, racism, sexism and had to go on stage and perform every night, as if nothing was going on behind the scenes. She was able to pick herself up by her bootstraps, so to speak, and become the woman and performer that we know and love today. That took a lot of perseverance and resilience. That’s definitely one thing that I’ve taken from this process and taken from her.
What is your involvement with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition?
2016 was the inception of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. It was founded by me and a few colleagues. At the time, I was in the show Shuffle Along, which is a predominantly Black show about Black artists in 1920. It was after the murder of Eric Garner. The artists in the show and I were so upset and yet we were on a stage, facing a sea of white faces. We felt like the Broadway community wasn’t supporting us or speaking out enough about the injustices, oppression and mishandling of Black lives and bodies in our country. That silence was deafening. We decided that instead of waiting for somebody to stand up, we decided to stand up for ourselves. We knew we had to be an organization that was there to support our Black theater community.
How have you been spending your time while Broadway is on hiatus?
A lot of time at home, like most of us! I was able to go to Virginia to visit my family for a little bit, and that was lovely. I’m writing my music again, which has been really nice to hear my own voice since I’ve been her [Tina’s] voice for so long. I have a lot of projects down the pipeline and taking it day by day—selfcare, meditation, yoga.
You’ve been very outspoken about systemic racism in the U.S., as well as in the theater industry. Can you talk more about your activism?
I think in this moment silence is deafening. I want to do what I can, in the spotlight I have, to amplify voices that are not often amplified and to speak up for injustices that I feel need to be in the conversation and in the forefront of our minds. All I’m trying to do is educate myself as well and provide some light and encouragement for anyone who is following me. We have work to do and it’s not unattainable, it’s just one step at a time.
What are some of your favorite things to do when you’re in Coastal Virginia?
Just be with my family. That’s number one. Just being able to connect with them because I don’t get to see them that often. My mother is the executive director of The Governor’s School for the Arts, so when I’m home, I try to go visit Governor’s School as much as I can and speak to the students there and try to provide some inspiration if I can. It’s really important that whenever I go home that I do my best to go there and The Hurrah Players to show my appreciation and show the kids and students that they can get where I am if they work as hard as I did. I think that’s really important to show the youth in Virginia.