When the producers and creative team of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical approached Adrienne Warren about taking on the role of Tina Turner, the actress had an instant knee-jerk reaction: She didn’t think she could do it.
“I just thought, ‘How is it possible for someone to age from 17 to 40 in one show, sing this many songs, and be Tina Turner on top of it all?’” Warren says. “Who can do that?”
She can, it turns out. The actress’s star turn in the bio-musical earned raves during the show’s West End premiere in London last year and netted her an Olivier Award nomination. This fall, New York audiences get a chance to see what all the buzz is about when Warren reprises her role in the Broadway production that kicks off October 12 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Katori Hall, the Olivier-winning playwright (The Mountaintop) who wrote the book to Tina had never worked with Warren but thought of her for the part after catching her Tony-nominated breakout performance in Shuffle Along. From that very first reading, Warren blew Hall and the rest of the Tina team away.
“She was bringing the house down at a table read!” Hall recalls. It wasn’t long, she says, before the creative team was asking: “’Are we really going to find someone better, when Adrienne can sing her ass off, and dance her ass off, and as an actress is so tapped into her vulnerability and her ferocity and her womanhood?’ No one could compare.”
For Warren, the goal is not to impersonate Turner but instead try to capture the superstar’s essence. “In telling her story, there was a way for me to find Tina within myself,” she explains. “For instance, her voice. How do I find the essence of her within my own voice? I would study the way in which she pronounces her vowels. I would study how she attacks her consonants, and her breath control, and the rhythm she sings certain phrases. Her tongue tension! I would look at her mouth with such detail to try to figure out: How does one sing like that, and sound so uninhibited, and find that reckless abandon?”
While honing her performance, Warren had the significant advantage of spending time with Turner herself during the rehearsal process. “I had the opportunity to learn about the woman she is — not necessarily the artist, but the woman,” Warren notes.
One of the actress’s biggest a-ha moments came out of an exchange she had with Turner about that instantly recognizable “Tina stance” — that strong pose with her legs apart and her shoulders back. Warren remembers, “Tina said to me, ‘Adrienne, why do you think I stand that way?’ And I said, ‘Because it’s your stance!’ And she said, ‘No, I stood that way because I didn’t think I could sing the notes!’ I couldn’t believe it, but when I thought about it, it made sense: She was grounding herself in a way that she was able to connect with the earth and with herself and her body.”
Warren acknowledges that the physically and vocally demanding role can be tough on her body, but she still can’t wait to bring her Tina to Broadway. “It’s a homecoming for me and for Tina, in a sense,” she says. “I’m very much looking forward to sharing this story with Tina’s fans here in the U.S. I think people have really missed her.”