Classically Trained Soprano Takes Stage on Broadway

CHICAGO COLLEGE OF PERFORMING ARTS ALUMNI PROFILE

by JARED FRITZ-MCCARTY

Kiss Me, Kate. The Tony Awards. The Lion King. 2019 has been an exciting, if not life-changing, year for Adrienne Walker (MM Vocal Performance, ’11). In March, she took on the role of Hattie in the Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, an homage to “old Broadway” full of dancing and singing.

Adrienne Walker as Nala backstage of Disney's The Lion King on Broadway

Adrienne Walker as Nala backstage of Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway
Photo by Marc J. Franklin

As is tradition for nominated productions, Walker and her fellow cast members performed at the Tony Awards. “I’ve dreamed for the past few years of this moment,” said Walker. “It was thrilling for me, a sign of growth as a performer. Performing in the Tonys as a dancer, not as a singer? If someone had told me that years ago, I wouldn’t have believed them.”

Walker discovered her passion for music as a young girl in Jonesboro, Georgia — it began with her singing around the house and joining her church’s choir at the age of 5. She embraced her love for singing over the next several years with continuous encouragement from family and decided to study music in college. She earned her undergraduate degree at Spelman College and then made her way to Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts to complete her master’s degree, where she studied with internationally recognized opera singer Cynthia Clarey. Clarey made a lasting impression on Walker. “I will forever be grateful for Cynthia believing in me and choosing me to be one of her students,” Walker said.

Walker plays Hattie in the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate

Walker plays Hattie in the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate
Photo by Joan Marcus

“The role requires an actress who can be very athletic on stage and up until that point in my career, athletic movement had not been a requirement. It was a challenge, but it taught me that hard work and preparation are the foundation of success.”

—Adrienne Walker
MM Vocal Performance, ’11

As a student, Walker took advantage of Chicago’s vast arts community and extended her work outside Roosevelt. Walker’s first performance at Court Theatre in its production of Porgy and Bess holds a special place in her heart. “Court Theatre is where it all started,” said Walker, acknowledging it was the theatre folks there who encouraged her to further pursue musical theatre. “If I had not done Porgy and Bess, I would not be where I am today.” 

Her success continued and she performed roles with some of Chicago’s most well-respected theatres: ensemble member in Rent at the Paramount Theatre, Cassandra in Agamemnon at the Court Theatre, and her Jeff Award–nominated performance of Shug Avery in The Color Purple at the Mercury Theater. She later joined the U.S. national tour of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage as Elizabeth and then relocated to New York City.

What came next is something that she describes as “the thing she never thought imaginable.” In July 2016, Walker took the stage as Nala in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway. With weeks of one-on-one training with the production’s dance captain and director, which extended beyond her debut, Walker’s determination and diligence paid off. “The role requires an actress who can be very athletic on stage and up until that point in my career, athletic movement had not been a requirement,” Walker said. “It was a challenge, but it taught me that hard work and preparation are the foundation of success.”

Walker acknowledges that there are no clear paths in the business of performing, especially in her case of being a classically trained musician who now is performing on Broadway. She emphasizes the importance of being resourceful and believing in yourself. “The only thing you have going for you, is you,” she said. “In other words, take charge of the things that you can control — be competitive, be on time, know your material to the best of your ability, dress the part, be kind and always be grateful. Lastly, always keep learning and be open to change.”

Walker will soon return to The Lion King and continues to think big picture, while being thankful for what each day brings. “I have so many goals to achieve, so I plan to consistently work towards them and enjoy my experiences along the way,” she said.

Adrienne Walker in New York City

Adrienne Walker, MM '11 in New York City
Photo by Marc J. Franklin

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