“How do you do that?”
That was the question star Adrienne Warren told Playbill she asked Tina Turner most often while fine-tuning her performance as the Queen of Rock n Roll in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. After the show officially opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre November 7, we asked Warren the same question.
“As soon as I put on the costumes, I’m there,” Warren says of mentally transforming into Tina each night. “But before that, I do my best to just relax backstage. Whether that’s putting on music that just makes me happy, because there’s a lot of darkness here at times. And then I just relax and zen out and take this show scene by scene and song by song.” (She also has an intense physical regimen, as well as routines with vocal coach Liz Caplan to keep her skills sharp to execute the physical and vocal requirements of the role.)
“It takes every bit of this triple threat, quadruple threat to get through this show,” said Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, who plays Tina during matinee performances. “I think it actually might be the hardest role musical theatre has ever seen.”
But, as Playbill learned during the afterparty at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the show isn’t just tough for its star. Choreographer Anthony Van Laast worked with Turner herself to perfect the style, movement vocabulary, and speed of the show. “When she came to London, once she said, after one of the shows, ‘From the knees up, it’s great. From the knees down, you got a lot of work to do,’ and then tonight she said, ‘Better,’” Van Laast said with a laugh.
The ensemble dancers talked about their intense workout routines and strict diets, but also spoke of the natural style of the choreography. “Once we are there, this choreo lives in our bodies because it was created by black women, it just lives in us,” said Destinee Rea.
“They told us how to put that funk inside of our hearts so even when we’re hittin’ it that hard onstage and we can’t breathe, it’s the best feeling,” says Kayla Davion.
Together, the cast creates the world of Tina from her native Nutbush, Tennessee, to her mother’s home in St. Louis, to life on the road as part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, to Las Vegas struggles, European dreams, and rock star triumphs. That world is rich and full, which Dawnn Lewis, who plays Tina’s mother, credits to director Phyllida Lloyd.
“She forced us all to say out loud what our intention was [in the rehearsal room],” she said. “Everybody in the room now knew what was on your mind and what your approach was going to be so we could all work together and be in the same world.”
But that world begins and ends with Tina. “She said hard work, and there are no shortcuts to hard work,” Warren said. “She said, 'I lived it every single day, I ate, slept and breathed these performances.' But also she said, 'I performed for my fans, I connect with them.' So it became very crucial for me to look into the audience and look into everyone’s eyes and connect with the audience, because that’s the energy that she felt and that’s the energy I’m giving back to them.”
And how does Warren do that? In the words of Van Laast, “She’s a five-star star.”
To hear more from Warren and all of the members of the company, watch the full livestream from the opening night red carpet below: