“Time moves slowly but passes quickly,” opines fictional nightclub singer Shug Avery. It’s been 15 years since Trinidad & Tobago’s most acclaimed theater actress has illuminated a Broadway stage in New York City. After her Tony Award-winning portrayal of the captive princess Aida in 2000, Heather Headley, 41, returned to the midwest to start a family, collected the 2009 Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel album, starred in a theatrical adaptation of The Bodyguard in London, and toured with legendary classical singer Andrea Bocelli.
The lights of Broadway beamed brighter for Ms. Headley’s return last May, in a supporting role as Shug Avery in The Color Purple The Musical at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. In her dressing room, on a balmy August evening, as theatergoers queued along 45th Street for showtime, she shared cues on how she strives to stay inspired:
Shug Avery helps Celie learn her own strength, what or who helped Heather Headley discover hers?
“The cliched answer would be my mom, of course. She’s the first person. I remember looking at teachers in school in Trinidad and thinking, I want to be like her when I grow up. I wanted to be a teacher long before I wanted to be a singer, and it’s because of those teachers that I had when I was in [St Vincent Anglican Girls’ School]. My husband has been an amazing mirror for me. To be validated and loved by someone like that, I think it does plant these seeds. When I have my worst days, when I have those days where I am like, what’s going on I can’t figure this out, to be able to have him look at me and say, you can do this you’re beautiful … it’s amazing to have that seed planted in you. I’ve been blessed to have a really beautiful circle of people.”
What are some notes to your younger self that you may pass to your children?
I don’t know if I would listen to my younger self, because you know you’re so caught up in the moment of the time. I would tell her that it’s going to be okay. Because you’re so anxious about many things. The first journal I got was when I was leaving Ragtime. I remember starting to write, and then it was something I did up until the birth of my first son. The funny part is that I can’t read them. I cannot pull them out and read them, because I remember h-e-r. And there are so many times that I want to say to her, it’s going to be okay.
When we left Trinidad I didn’t know what Broadway was, I had never seen a Broadway show. I had no idea. And so, if we had told Trinidad Heather, running around Barataria, that in 11 years you’re going to be on a stage getting something called a Tony Award, she’d be like, okay, what, where, how? Even if I told her that two years before, when I was understudying Audra [McDonald], that you and Audra are going to compete for the same Tony, and you might get it, she’d be like absolutely not. It’s going to be okay. Seriously, I wish I was still journaling, because I’m sure Heather at 45 or 50 would tell this Heather, it’s going to be okay. Even in the worse times, it’ll work out. Stay inspired.