“Someone will never hire me to just stand and sing. They will hire me to dance and sing. They will hire me to flip and sing, tap and sing. Never just stand. I’m OK with that.” – Adrienne Warren
A Broadway musical as unique as Shuffle Along or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed isn’t going to have a traditional development period. The part-revival, part-new musical features the beloved music of the 1921 groundbreaking musical with scenes that tell the story of its difficult journey to Broadway. According to star Adrienne Warren, who was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in the show, the casting process was also unique.
Director/writer George C. Wolfe was utilizing Warren to workshop her for a show he was working on and had her sing and dance to songs written in the 1920s. She recalls that at one point Wolfe told her, “You have a job,” which sled her to ask, “Great. What is it? What are you talking about?”
As it turns out, that job would be Shuffle Along. Although Warren was excited enough already, she couldn’t believe it when she saw who her co-stars would be listed on the press release: Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry. She recalls, “When I actually saw the press release, my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. And then I thought, ‘What am I doing in this room? How am I going to be in this room?’ I think I still kind of feel that way.”
On top of feeling like she has to live up to her co-star’s talent, Warren has the challenge of playing two different characters in the play — original Shuffle Along star Gertrude Saunders and her replacement actress, Florence Mills. The character switch comes at intermission, and Warren makes sure to make the two characters distinct. She explains, “It alters my posture. It alters the way I walk. It alters my singing voice. It alters the way I look at things. It alters my facial expressions. There’s a lot of things that come into play.”
Warren isn’t afraid of challenges, and she credits playing sports in her youth for putting her on that path. She says, “From a very young age, I acquired a work ethic that was out of this world,” and adds, “Someone will never hire me to just stand and sing. They will hire me to dance and sing. They will hire me to flip and sing, tap and sing. Never just stand. I’m OK with that.”
It has all led to one of her proudest moments — telling her parents that she was nominated for a Tony Award. She remembers the phone call as being very chaotic, “I just said, ‘I did it.’ And I just said, ‘OK, I’ve got to go’ because my phone was ringing over and over and over. I said, ‘I did it! I did it! I’ve got to go, bye. Love you.'”
If Warren’s lucky, she’ll get to relive that phone call all over again after the winners are announced.