How Adrienne Warren becomes Tina Turner on stage

“It feels incredible to be back,” said actress Adrienne Warren. “It feels like a blessing, and I’m happy to be able to do what I love.”

What Warren loves is performing in a theater filled with people, and portraying one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest stars, in the Broadway show “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” re-opening, after 19 months, on October 8.

And Broadway loves Adrienne Warren. She’s nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Musical, and the show itself is nominated for 12 Tonys (including Best Musical).

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Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” CBS News

Correspondent Maurice DuBois asked Warren, “Did you forget stuff?”

“Yes. Yeah, I’ve forgotten a lot!”

Returning to Broadway also meant getting back into fighting shape. “You got nice skills, by the way,” said DuBois, “the one-two and the three, the hook especially, right?”

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Adrienne Warren practices her boxing skills.  CBS News

Warren has been becoming Tina Turner for more than six years now, and patience has been the name of the game: “I’ve done this show for so long and I think, I put so much pressure on myself. Pressure to do right by her. Pressure to do right by her fans. And now, I feel a bit more ownership over it in a way that I didn’t feel that before, and now I think I can actually have a bit more fun.”

Before the pandemic began, Warren shared with “Sunday Morning” the pivotal moment in her transformation to Tina Turner, in the very first scene: “Right here, my back is to the audience. And right when the lights go down here for me, and I hear that crowd (snaps fingers), that’s when I become Tina.”

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Adrienne Warren explains to correspondent Maurice DuBois her entrance as Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” CBS News

The musical tells the turbulent story of Tina Turner’s life, from her difficult childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her discovery, and horrific treatment, by her husband and producer Ike Turner.

Tina Turner, one of the show’s executive producers, described the violence to “CBS Sunday Morning” in 2018: “How bad did it get? I had to be really careful what I said and how I said it. And I didn’t want to start a fight because it was always a black eye, a broken nose, a busted lip, a rib. It was pure torture.”

Warren said, “I’ve looked up to her for as long as I can remember. I mean, there wasn’t a time when my parents didn’t play her music in my household. And I had never seen another woman sing rock ‘n’ roll that looked like me.”

From their very first meetings, Turner made sure she would be there for any advice that the actress needed. Warren said, “You know, from the beginning, she asked our producers: ‘Let Adrienne come and sit with me, and tell her she can ask me anything she wants.’ And I thought: What?”

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Tina Turner instructs Adrienne Warren in dancing the Pony. CBS News

“One of the first things she said to me is: there are no shortcuts to hard work,'” Warren said. “And I thought, I really don’t know what she means by that. But now I do.”

Turner said she told Warren: “Don’t try to be me. Find my essence.” And in order to find that essence, Warren turned to video of Turner’s classic performances.

The Ike & Tina Turner Revue performs “Proud Mary” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in January 1970:

Ike & Tina Turner Revue “Proud Mary” on The Ed Sullivan Show by The Ed Sullivan Show on YouTube

“How does her body move when she’s just groovin’?” Warren said. “Her hands are often always here. They’re often a little loose. But she, like, makes points and points at things and points at the audience.”

And Warren says she was shocked by something else: “There are a lot of videos that you can look back and you can actually see bruises on her. She would say, ‘Adrienne, you see that under my eye there? He had just punched me in the face before.’ And she tried to cover it up with makeup.”

Being Tina Turner took its toll on Warren: pain to her ankle and knee, a herniated disc. She hardly ever leaves the stage for the show’s two hours and 45 minutes, performing an astonishing 24 numbers.

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Adrienne Warren does pushups backstage. CBS News

DuBois asked, “So, what happens to your muscles, your mind, when you don’t perform for a year?”

“I actually had to forget about myself as an entertainer for a little bit,” she replied. “I actually asked the question of ‘Who am I without that?'”

“Come up with any answers?”

“Yes, I think so. I am someone who cares a lot about what’s happening in this world, in this country, cares a lot about my community. The silence around Black lives infuriated me in a way that actually made me want to stop performing at one point. Broadway was silent about my life, and about whether or not it matters. We were having to ask permission to be seen as equal. And the industry didn’t really acknowledge us for years, until now.”

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Actress Adrienne Warren. CBS News

Which explains why Warren will walk off with a special Tony Award tonight, for her work with the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, a group she co-founded five years ago to combat racism.

“So, ultimately in your mind, what does social justice look like when it comes to the theater?” DuBois asked.

“It looks like you and I as theater owners,” Warren replied. “It looks like you and I as producers. It looks like Black narratives being more about, ‘Watch how well we sing and how well we dance, but what is it to be us in everyday life?’ We’re being acknowledged.

“So, now we’re here, you see us, and we’re not goin’ anywhere. And we’re gonna continue to hold people accountable, and we’re not gonna shut up!” she laughed.

Warren stated, “In my journey of learning how to be Tina, somewhere in there I’ve been able to find myself, yeah.”

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Adrienne Warren, a Tony nominee for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”  CBS News

UPDATE: Adrienne Warren won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, for “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” 

You can stream the original Broadway cast album of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear the tracks in full):

For more info:

     
Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: David Bhagat. 

    
See also: 

Tina Turner on her love story 09:52