The Color Purple Tony Winner Heather Headley Has the Best Stories for Six of Her Epic YouTube Videos
May 24th, 2016
by Josh Ferri
Heather Headley is pushing Broadway's button big time as Shug Avery in the Tony-nominated revival of The Color Purple. Her long-awaited Broadway return has been showered with critical acclaim and NY theatre buzz you can't buy. The one-two punch of Headley and Erivo makes The Color Purple the most satisfying ticket in town.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
While we hold our breath for a legit video of Heather performing "Push Da Button", "What About Love?" or "The Color Purple", BroadwayBox caught up with Headley to reminisce and get the tee on six of her most beloved Broadway-centric YouTube clips.
Funny Girl, High School, 1993
Senior year of high school my teacher, Mr. Proctor, picked Funny Girl, and I, of course, had not seen it. It was one of those times where you have to be grateful to your teachers for seeing something ahead of yourself and trusting you to be able to do it. I look at it now and think there’s so many things I want to tell that little girl. I would tell her that things are going to be amazing, and this is kind of scary but in less than 10 years she’ll be on a stage accepting a Tony Award. I would tell her that there are going to be some crazy days and tough days, and you won’t know how it will work out but God will work it out. I would tell her to practice more and get that voice in order. Try to remain humble. And I would tell her that guy she thinks is cute is not really cute—don’t even worry about him.
"Shadowland", The Lion King on Letterman, 1997
My analogy for all things Heather is while I’m in things I have blinders on like a horse—I see that path and I’m running down that path, and I want to do my best and win. I only see what’s in front of me. I don’t see the big picture sometimes. So here Disney says ‘You’re going to do Letterman;’ and I’m thinking, ‘You need to go there and do a good job.’ Not knowing this is so much bigger than what’s happening. I remember the room being extremely cold and being extremely grateful they’d chose ‘Shadowloand’, and that this was my opportunity to showcase the show and sing properly. And of course there was Tsidii Le Loka, who was not going to take prisoners—that doll is like ‘If you don’t feel like singing, I will sing;’ and you just say, ‘Yes ma’am.’ That was just a crazy, big night but I didn’t understand until a month or two later.
"Gods Love Nubia", Aida on Rosie, 2000
I had the best of times on that show and the worst times on that show. We started that show in Atlanta and a lot of changes happened, and that was tough. Then I have the greatest memory sitting in the room with Bob Crowley and Bob Falls and having Crowley show me that museum at the beginning, and me going, ‘This is kinda weird.’ Then at the end when the museum came back, I did exactly what the audience did every night, just scream and cry and hold him. Rosie was such a great supporter of that show—she just fell in love with it. Those mornings were early mornings. You were there at 6 o’clock and you did a show the night before. You need to be in full costume and sing it full voice—we need the belted C held for 84 measures—but blinders again. You go in and do it. It’s one of my favorite numbers ever. The culmination for me of emotion and story and gospel—who doesn’t want to walk around the cast lifting them up while they wail in your face?
"Your Song", Kennedy Center Honors Elton John, 2004
This was the kind of night where if you took the blinders off, you will die of terror. This is the crème de la crème of the crème—you take the crème of that crème. Elton requested that I sing that song—God bless him—and I was the last one in that section of Billy Joel, Kid Rock and Fantasia. I’m standing backstage with my microphone, my husband is next to me, and I’m shaking—Why am I here? Then I remember a voice came to me and said, 'Sing it to him. This is your chance to tell Elton thank you.’ And that’s what happened. For me to be able to honor somebody who wrote something that changed my life in such an amazing way and added to it in such an amazing way was such a great honor for me, and it will always be.
"I Will Always Love You", The Bodyguard at the Olivier Awards, 2013
I knew we were going up against Imelda [Staunton] and she was going to get it, and at that point I knew I would be leaving in about three or four months, so I thought, ‘This is your way to say thank you. I’ll be leaving soon and I love you guys.’ We had die-hard fans and it had been a great experience for myself and my family. When I started singing, I wasn’t singing it all as Rachel Marron but maybe Heather speaking to all those sweet people in England. The first 30 seconds of that song is scary. They give you the note offstage then in that time there’s a lengthy intro and I’m like, ‘if I’, ‘if I’ or is it ‘if I’ ‘If I’—stop talking I’m losing the note! Then you gracefully walk out there holding the right ‘If I’, then every time I heard the chords come under I thought, ‘Thank you God. I’m safe.’ By the time I hit the ‘and I’ I’m like, ‘Let’s just sing. We can sing now.’
"Memory", Andrew Lloyd Webber Tribute, 2013
Some of those hard days in London were the fact that I got a really bad case of the flu that led to laryngitis in January of that year, and we really didn’t tell the public so I was dealing with this illness and being this sick by myself. I was very upset and disappointed and broken about the fact that I could not go to work—I couldn’t sing. My contract said I could not go home for the first six months (and rightfully so) and the day after this concert I’m supposed to go home for the first time. I remember getting there that day in this angst, and I needed to be refilled at home. The illness had taken so much out of me; I couldn’t be onstage. I started singing it in rehearsal and I got a frog in my throat. I couldn’t sing it again and I had no idea how my voice would work. I went into the room and prayed and said, ‘I’m done. I’m done being sick. I’m done being concerned about the note. All is well. I am going home tomorrow, and we are coming back here fulfilled and ready to get it done.’ Then all of the sudden the lyrics meant everything. When I see the video that’s what I remember. My body took over and did it—the cat is in there and Rachel is in there and Heather is there, and they are all saying, ‘Here we go.’ It was cathartic.
Don't miss Heather Headley as Shug Avery in 'The Color Purple' at Broadway's Jacobs Theatre.