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Spotlight: Heather Headley, ‘The Color Purple’ on Broadway

The Northrop grad begins performances Tuesday night

| The Journal Gazette


Actress and singer Heather Headley is a long way from the lonely girl in the hallway at Northrop High School. The Tony and Grammy winning performer has been a longtime talent that has brought the city pride with roles in “The Lion King” and “Aida” on Broadway.

Now, Headley makes her return to the stage Tuesday, replacing Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery in Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” which was recently nominated for four Tony Awards.

“Tell Fort Wayne I’m really grateful for all of the support, and the continued love and encouragement,” Headley says. “People already tell me, “Hey, we’re going to drive to New York, and everything like that. It’s great, especially all the love that comes from Northrop.”

Headley, who hasn’t had an ongoing Broadway role since “Aida” in 2000, discussed last week how she’s been preparing for “The Color Purple,” crying on the first day of school and how her two sons think her return to Broadway is really a play date.


Some of the responses have been edited.

Q. How are you preparing for “The Color Purple”?

A. I was quarantined to a room for the first week, which I kind of like to some extent, because normally with the shows before, I kind of – and I don’t say this is in a presumptuous way – but, I originated the role. So you’re always with the cast, and you’re kind of learning with the cast and making mistakes with the cast. In this instance, the cast already knows the show, and they have performances. So I was kind of in a room, learning it, but I’ve been learning it by myself and making mistakes by myself and not having everybody see them (Laughs) It’s kind of nice not to be like, “Oops, that doesn’t work. Let’s try it again,” in front of everybody. … A few days later, I had some of the understudies come in, and then a few days later, they kind of put the whole cast around me. … I actually enjoyed the process of just kind of sitting with the director, the assistant director, the music director and kind of just fighting through everything before I met (the cast). Needless to say, they are ahead in the class, and I’m kind of coming in mid-year, trying to catch up.


Q. The character, Shug Avery, is a jazz singer that serves a maternal role. How are you connecting to this character?

A. You know, it’s funny that you would say that, because I do think there is that bit of a maternal side to her. The big sister side to her. And there are times that in the song, I kind of look over at Cynthia (Erivo, the 29-year-old British actress who plays Celie in “The Color Purple), and I don’t call (Shug) a mother, but it’s that big sister role, and I do kind of connect to that even with my children. Like, “How would I say this to my child?” But in a better way, of course, because she’s much older than that. It’s been beautiful to have that connection, and to be able to be a big sister to not only the cast, but maybe even for (Erivo and Danielle Brooks of “Orange Is The New Black”). They all got Tony nominations, and so, this is maybe a time for me to also be a big sister to them and say, “Okay, what do you need to know from me about this process?”





For tickets to “The Color Purple” on Broadway, go to www.colorpurple.com and click “Buy Tickets Now” or call 1-800-432-7250. Tickets start at $75.

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