AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Adrienne Warren, Broadway baby

Dec 15, 2021, 10:02 AM | Updated: 10:23 am

NEW YORK (AP) — Adrienne Warren had studiously avoided ever touching a Tony Award her entire stage career. Her motto was that she’d only hold one if she deserved to.

On Sept 26, 2021, she finally held one. She deserved it.

Warren won the best leading actress Tony for being a one-woman fireball of energy and exhilaration while portraying Tina Turner in the Broadway musical celebrating the rock pioneer’s life. A standing ovation greeted her win.

“When they called my name, I think I became a 6-year-old girl,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting to feel that much love from the theater community. I still consider myself a Broadway baby, so I was unbelievably shocked and really grateful and honored.”

The win capped a remarkable year for the actor who during the pandemic lost and gained 30 pounds for a TV role and also co-founded the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, which uses storytelling to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism.

Her success has made Warren one of The Associated Press’ Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year, a list that also includes Damson Idris, Simu Liu,Rachel Zegler, Rauw Alejandro and Sidney Sweeney and more.

Warren, who was raised in Chesapeake, Virginia, does not shy away from a challenge and puts in the work. She was twirled in the air nightly for “Bring It On” and toured with the demanding show “Dreamgirls.” In “Shuffle Along,” she played two parts and earned her first Tony nod.

To play Turner for more than two hours a night, eight shows a week, Warren became a lean singing and dancing machine. She began playing Turner in 2018 in England and was nominated for an Olivier Award the following year.

When the show transferred to Broadway, Warren became the front-runner for the Tony until the pandemic stopped theater in its tracks. She turned to a project she never would have been able had “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” been running.

She flew to Mississippi to play civil rights catalyst Mamie Till-Mobley — whose son Emmett Till was brutally murdered in the Jim Crow South — in the ABC limited series “Women of the Movement.” She lost herself in the softer character. “I didn’t want people to see Adrienne,” she says.

“We are constantly putting the title of superhero on Black women. And yet we are never giving them the opportunity to show how they got their capes,” she says. “I’m interested in the humanization of our heroes.”

Warren also put her energy into the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, fighting for change. She has thrown herself into amplifying voices of those who have no power.

“Black artists have always been in the front lines of change, period,” she says. “What we need is for white people to actually understand that they have to change.”

When “Tina” started planning its restart back on Broadway, Warren had to switch back. She had about three months to lose the 30 pounds and then rebuild her muscle mass.

“I had to give myself a little bit of grace because when I started ‘Tina,’ I was in my 20s and I was just so dedicated and I was muscling through, sometimes to a deficit — a lot of times to a deficit — and putting myself and my body through hell. And this time around, I really wanted to stay a bit more true to myself and give myself grace.”

She wanted to come back to show the world that Broadway was back and that the coalition wouldn’t relent on pushing for change.

“If I wasn’t there, I would have felt horrible. And so that moment was actually the reason I came back, and I’m really, really glad I got to have that,” she says.

Her return — less than a month of performances — was a victory lap before she said goodbye to the show forever on Halloween night and went to South Africa to film “The Woman King,” opposite Viola Davis. She ended the show on a Sunday and was on a plane Monday. How’s that for hustling?

Along that way, Warren has found herself new friends with Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey and Victoria Beckham. But, above all, her bond with Turner is cherished.

“I will always be connected to her. And she says the same. I think we’ve always had a connection,” she says. “Her pain will never go in vain and people will continue to be empowered by it all over the world. That’s all I wanted to do.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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For more on AP’s 2021 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, please visit: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Adrienne Warren, Broadway baby