If Tina Turner has one defining trait, it’s arguably her stamina. A truly performative artist who shakes, shimmies, struts, and swaggers, Turner, who will turn 80 November 26th, embodies an unrivaled sensual physicality. It’s something Adrienne Warren, who plays the icon in the just-opened Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway, understood from the get-go.
Warren, 32, knew she couldn’t rely on just any grueling gym regimen. She needed something that kept her strong, agile, and able to maintain, yes, the Turner stamina required for countless high-octane routines. Before rehearsals began in London, Warren began boxing and jumping rope with Michael Olajide Jr., the former middleweight contender who’s trained everyone from Adriana Lima to Chris Hemsworth. Describing the physical aspects of getting into character, Warren says she knew she had to essentially summon the mightiest version of herself. “I’m not only playing her [Turner], but I also have to be strong enough to protect myself in the fight choreography that I do between every dance number,” she tells CR. “It’s not just singing and dancing, it’s also telling the very tumultuous parts of her life as well. It requires a lot of you—every part of you, actually.”
Warren, a Virginia native, grew up listening to Turner’s music, introduced to it by her preacher father. She sang in her church choir and headlined local musicals, ultimately landing in Manhattan for college to study acting. After graduating, Warren appeared in The Wiz, Dreamgirls, and a musical adaptation of the 2000 cult classic Bring It On. In 2016, she received a Tony Award nomination for featured actress for her role in Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. It was during this time that Warren was tapped for the role of Turner following a piano-accompanied performance of the singer’s 1984 hit, “Private Dancer.”
Turner, who’s now technically retired in Switzerland, serves as one of Tina’s executive producers. She offered Warren some candid advice, along with unprecedented access in their first meeting regarding the musical. “I was able to go to her one-on-one with any question I ever wanted to ask her,” Warren recalls. “And for me, I took that opportunity to get to know the woman that is Anna Mae Bullock and not necessarily the artist that is Tina Turner.” Warren asked about her childhood, what hobbies Turner had, and what she liked to eat. Cumulatively, Warren says, it’s all the little things that make up that larger-than-life persona.
Warren received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination earlier this year for best actress following Tina’s London debut. She says that playwright Katori Hall and director Phyllida Lloyd were laser-focused on fine-tuning the musical’s playbook for its Broadway iteration. While conceding the difficulty inherent to creating “bio-musicals,” the result this time, its star says, is akin to a play with music. “When you’re able to get as deep with it as we have, it really becomes a special experience,” she adds. “You’re walking away having felt something about the journey of a woman who has gone through everything from racism to ageism to sexism and come out on the other side, you know, with light and love and faith and a rock ‘n’ roll star.”
Warren says she’s looking to resume work on her own studio album once Tina wraps, and ultimately produce her own plays and films. In the meantime, she feels incredibly grateful for the female camaraderie afforded by Hall, Lloyd, and Tina producer Tali Pelman. “It really is just like a Justice League group of women—supporting one of the most powerful and empowering women in our music industry, Tina Turner,” Warren says, laughing. “I mean, it’s perfect.”END
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