DIVA TALK: Chatting With Bring It On: The Musical Star Adrienne Warren
By Andrew Gans
August 31, 2012
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice may have written about it, but Adrienne Warren's got it; star quality, that is. The beautiful actress is one of 30 young artists currently making a Broadway debut in the upbeat, family-friendly Bring It On: The Musical, the new, high-energy musical at the St. James Theatre that is inspired by the popular film franchise about rival cheerleading teams. Warren, who was also seen in the City Center Encores! production of The Wiz and as Lorrell in the recent national tour of Dreamgirls, portrays the no-nonsense Danielle in Bring It On, a role that earned her an Atlanta Theater Fan Award nomination. As Danielle, Warren gets the chance to showcase her rich, resonant and rangy voice as well as her acting, comedic and cheerleading chops. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the actress, who also possesses an infectious, good-natured laugh. Warren spoke about her Broadway bow, her experiences in two different productions of Dreamgirls and more; that interview follows.
Question: Tell me, how did Bring It On come about for you? Adrienne Warren: Well, I was on tour with Dreamgirls—the one that started at the Apollo a couple of years ago—and Andy Blankenbuehler gave me a phone call. I had worked with him at Encores! during The Wiz a couple summers before, and he called and said, "I can't find a girl to play this role. I know you're on tour, but are you interested in coming on a day off and auditioning?" And, I said, "Sure." So I came, I sang for the producers, and I got the job. [Laughs.]
Warren in Bring It On: The Musical.
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: Were you ever a cheerleader? Did you have any cheerleading experience? Warren: Absolutely not! [Laughs.] I actually was an athlete in middle school and then up until high school, but then I went to a performing arts high school, so I had to stop a lot of my sports. I grew up in a sports family. My dad plays football—football coach—and my mom was basketball and track coach for a long time, and they never let me try out to be a cheerleader! That was just not an option in my house! [Laughs.] But I had a lot of friends who were cheerleaders. I used to pick on them in high school, and they used to put their skirts on me, and I used to laugh because I just did not look right in a cheer uniform—like ever! They thought it was the funniest thing to put their uniforms on me, and now it's kind of payback, and they're like, "It's so ironic that your Broadway debut would be playing a cheerleader!" I'm like, "I know. Crazy!" [Laughs.]
Question: How difficult were those stunts to learn? Warren: You know, the stunts weren't really that difficult to learn, but there is a whole fear-factor in it, and once you get past the fear-factor of it, then you're okay. When we were doing the workshop, Andy Blankenbuehler told me to go up in a stunt, and I was nervous because I had just met these guys, and here I am putting my life in their hands. And, my mother—I was just moving to a new apartment—was painting my apartment, and I have really high ceilings, and when I came home, I told her the story of how I went up in the stunt, and tears welled up in my eyes because I had never really done that before… She made me get on top of the ladder in my apartment and sit there until my fear was gone. Ever since that, I was like, "Okay. I can do this." And, now those guys…We trust each other so much—the whole cast. They have you no matter what. Now it feels like any other dance move.
Warren on opening night
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Question: That's interesting about the fear because I was listening to one of the Olympic divers speak, and he said the first time he went to the very highest diving board, he looked down and thought, "Are you kidding me? There's no way I'm going to do this!" Warren: [Laughs.] Exactly. And, that's kind of what it feels like. You're like, "You're telling me I'm going to go up there, and I may have to sing, and then I'm going to flip down, and I'm going to do that eight times a week? What do you mean? And, I've never done that before!" [Laughs.] That's crazy!
Question: How would you describe Danielle? Warren: Of course, everybody knows she's the Queen Bee of Jackson High School, and she's the head of their hip-hop dance crew there. I would describe her as a fun, exciting person that you want to be friends with, but don't cross her in a negative way. You don't want to cross her because she's also very outspoken, and she's very hardworking and ambitious and willing to do anything to go after her dreams. I look up to her a lot because she is not afraid to step outside the box and—to quote the show—"do her own thing" and wear what she wants to wear, talk the way she wants to talk and talk to anyone. She's not afraid of anyone or anything, and she kind of just goes after whatever is in her path, and she has fun doing it. I think that's something I really, really love about her. I think that's what makes her really fun and likable as a person, and I wish I was more like that when I was in high school. [Laughs.] And, I know a lot of people that probably do.
Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show? Is there anything you look forward to? Warren: I look forward to the show in general just because it's so much fun to do. I mean, people always say at the end of the show when they come to the stage door, "You guys look like you're having so much fun," and it's true. We are having so much fun. It's a lot of hard work, and it's physically demanding, but this show is so much fun to do. I think one moment in the show that I love is "Friday Night Jackson." It's a chance in the show where I, as Danielle, get to have fun with just everyone in the cast—the ensemble and my crew girls—and we just have a ball during that number. It's set after the homecoming game on a Friday night. Everyone's having a good time, and I get to wear a sparkly outfit. [Laughs.] It's just a whole lot of fun. I love that part, definitely.
Question: Do you think the show has a message or what does it say to you? Warren: Yeah, I think the really special aspect of this show is people come to this show, first off, having no idea what to expect—knowing that they are going to see cheerleading, but not knowing really how it's going to happen. Is it going to be an acrobatic show? But what they don't expect are the lessons that we have that Jeff Whitty, our book writer, was so amazing at putting into this show. You will laugh, you will cry, you will be touched, you will be filled with joy. And, what's so great about that is we have these lessons that friendship is more important than winning, and winning isn't everything, and the importance of being yourself and liking who you are and accepting others for who they are. These are all universal themes that no matter how old you are or where you come—the background you come from—we all can relate to in some way, shape or form, and I think that's really beautiful about this piece.
Warren and Taylor Louderman in Bring It On: The Musical.
photo by Joan Marcus
Question: What was it like working on the show and getting it together with so many different creatives—Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green and Jeff Whitty. Warren: Oh, you mean our dream team?! [Laughs.] They are just amazing! I mean, Tony after Tony, Pulitzer Prize, Grammy… I mean, I could go on for days. We always talk about their bronze room that they have of just awards everywhere. The best thing about working with them—they're great people, first and foremost, and they made this show great for all of us. This was a new thing for most of our cast, and many of our cast members have never done a show before in their lives. And, they were always personable, you could always come to them, and they really trust you with the work that they created and trust you and gave you a little bit of liberties here and there. And, for Tom Kitt to say, "I love that lick you just did. Let me write that into the music…" That's amazing that he can say that to you… They're all so inspiring, and they push all of us to do our very best, and I enjoyed the process so much. It was such a long and crazy and hard process, but at the end, I've learned so much, and I couldn't have asked for better people to work with.
Question: I know you've done Encores! with The Wiz, but this is your Broadway debut… Warren: This is my Broadway debut.
Warren on opening night
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Question: Was there anything different about your first night on Broadway than what you had thought it would be like? Did it feel special? Warren: I kind of say I had two first nights because preview night was the first Broadway audience really, and then opening night was the official first night… Preview night I was very emotional. There were certain points in the show where tears were just coming to my eyes because this has been a two-and-a-half-year journey for a lot of us. And, to think, "Oh my gosh, we're finally here. I'm finally on this stage at this moment, feeling this energy from the audience and my cast members"—that was just crazy and amazing. But the opening night was very special. I had a lot of family and friends in the audience—some who have never seen the show before—and I had a lot of people in my life that had helped me get to this point, like the head of my family theatre company when I was a kid, head of my musical theatre department when I was in performing arts high school. They were all there, so to share that with them and my parents was so special, and my mother—she ruined everything! [Laughs.]… She sent my opening-night present backstage at five minutes to places, and it was a shadow box—a collage that she makes when I do shows sometimes… She made one for my first regional show I ever did when I was in high school, and she made one for this. And, in the collage, you can see pictures of us from the workshop, the out-of-town tryout, the tour, and we look so young! I mean, younger than we already are now. [Laughs.] And, I just burst into tears! I had to redo all of my makeup. [Laughs.] I just started crying, and I really got all of the emotion out then, so I was able to just focus on the show that night, which actually was great. It actually really helped, but that was so special, and it was a really, really special moment for me.
Question: Since we haven't spoken before, I wanted to go back a bit. Where were you born and raised? Warren: I was raised and born in Chesapeake, Virginia, and then I moved here to New York City when I was 18 because I went to Marymount Manhattan College for school.
Warren and Chester Gregory in Dreamgirls.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Question: What was your first professional role? Warren: I got my Equity card doing the 25th anniversary of Dreamgirls, actually with Jennifer Holliday. She actually cast me…at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta during my sophomore year of college. I think I was 19, and that's when I got my card… I promised my parents that I would only do shows during the summer so I could graduate because I knew once I stopped then I wouldn't go back! [Laughs.] And, I have a family full of educators, so that was not an option. [Laughs.]
Question: You were in that Dreamgirls and the recent touring one. What were your experiences like in the two different productions? Warren: Well, the first production, I was in the ensemble, and I got to really dance and just have fun being in the ensemble… Their track is pretty light in Dreamgirls, so I got to watch backstage a lot, and I sat backstage every single night and watched Jennifer Holliday do "And I Am Telling You," and I just soaked it up. And, I remember one time I was in the wrong place at the wrong time… [Laughs.] She came offstage at the end of that number, and she literally just grabbed me, and I'm like a 19-year-old little tiny thing, and she grabbed me. And, she grabs whoever is the closest person near her because she puts so much energy out into that number, so when she gets offstage, she just grabs a person and hugs them, and that was me that day. [Laughs.] It was very crazy! So that was what it was like during that, and then when I was blessed enough to be cast as Lorrell in the tour, that was just insane because we knew this was going to be kind of like a revival of it, and we were starting at the Apollo Theater, and to do that show on the Apollo stage, I can't even explain what that felt like. It was just amazing, and I was elated and just so excited. The energy from that building is just ridiculous, so that was amazing. And then touring with it and not knowing whether or not we were going to make it back to Broadway. It was just a really amazing ride for me because it was my first real, real, real lead as an Equity actress, and I was kind of still out of college… Dreamgirls, in general, is singing an opera, so I had to learn how to pace myself. There were all these lessons that I had to learn just to keep my voice up and to do eight shows a week, and I was not a natural soprano, so it was a big task in that role. It was almost like having a master class because I had to learn so much in such a short period of time. Just to keep up was crazy. [Laughs.] And, now I [can sing] soprano because of that. [Laughs.]
Warren's EP, available on iTunes
Question: In your bio, you say that you have an EP available. What kind of music is that, and where can people find that? Warren: It is a rock and soul album. I kind of got the rock 'n' roll music bug because I toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra my senior year of college, and they're a big rock 'n' roll Christmas arena tour. I did a couple of shows with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, then I completely got the bug, and I was like, "This is amazing. I love this." So my six months off between the out-of-town trial and the tour, I decided to get a band together and work on an EP, and that's what I did… So it's really great to do something that people don't expect from me because I do theatre. And, this is my other love—rock and soul. I'm a huge Tina Turner fan. I love it.
Question: Where would you like to see your career go from here? What's your dream path? Warren: I would love, love, love to get back into my music. As soon as this starts slowing down a little bit, I'm going to get back into my music and be with my band and do shows and hopefully do a tour somewhere. I have such a love for music, but I also have such a love for acting. I went to school for theatre, so getting into TV and film is definitely my next step. I still want to stay in theatre because theatre has been so great to me, and I love it. There's nothing like live theatre, but definitely TV and film and my music are my next real concentration.