When she's not starring as medical examiner Melinda Warner on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or gracing the New York stage, Tamara Tunie serves as president of the board of New York's Harlem Stage and works as a successful Broadway producer. But according to the actress and singer, there's nothing as fulfilling as live performance. That's one of the reasons she's decided to hit 54 Below with a brand-new concert, Legends From the 'Burgh.
In addition to giving Tunie the opportunity to flex her live-performance muscles, Legends From the 'Burgh is a chance to celebrate her home city of Pittsburgh and its many famed musicians. TheaterMania spoke to Tunie about what inspired the concert, which Pittsburgher's music she's most excited to perform, and what role could bring her back to Broadway.
What made you decide to do this concert at 54 Below?
I've seen a few people here, including my good friend LaChanze. So they reached out, and I said I would love to. But then it became a matter of, what am I going to do? So ironically at Harlem Stage we were doing a tribute to Mary Lou Williams, and listening to the music and the story of Mary Lou Williams, who was from Pittsburgh, as am I. A light bulb went off. And I thought, There are so many talented singers and musicians and composers from Pittsburgh. I could celebrate my home city. So that's how I came up with the show.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, were you aware of what a rich performing heritage there was?
Yes and no. I mean, I was a kid. But my mom and my dad, they would talk about Billy Eckstine and Maxine Sullivan, from the thirties and forties, so I was kind of aware. I've lived in New York for thirty years now but I'm a proud Pittsburgher and home is home. My family's still in Pittsburgh.
I just found it astonishing once I started researching who the musicians were that are from there. It's so many. I mean, it's Perry Como. Christina Aguilera is from the Pittsburgh area. So it just goes on and on.
Who were you most surprised to discover was a Pittsburgh artist?
Well, first, Stephen Foster. I had no idea and basically, in his day, he was like a total rock star, writing all this great music. So that was the biggest surprise.
You wear a lot of hats. How do you balance it all?
I run around like a crazy person. But really, I just think there are enough hours in the day. If you just focus and dedicate yourself and approach each task as it presents itself, you can accomplish a lot. And I feel very strongly about, at this point in my career, supporting other artists and their work and giving them the opportunity for their voices to be heard, whether it's on Broadway or up at Harlem Stage.
What do you find most fulfilling?
You know, performing live theater. I'm always happy and most at home on the stage. I love film and television but I love live performance…your immediacy with the audience, it makes all the difference in the world.
What role would you like to come back to Broadway in?
I want to play Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. That's what I want to do. I'd be a fantastic Mrs. Lovett.