The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 10, 2019 1:00 am

Headley coming home

Northrop graduate, Tony winner to sing at Clyde Theatre

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

When Heather Headley answers the phone, she is sitting in the makeup trailer for her new TV series. One eyelash to go, then she is free to talk.

After stepping outside into what she calls a pleasant Atlanta morning, she is full of humor and excited to chat about her show and upcoming Fort Wayne concert even though she had an early call time and her baby didn't sleep the night before.

She calls her daughter, born this spring, “a surprise little girl,” giving credit to God and her two sons with husband, Brian Musso. 

“Our boys started praying for a baby sister and kinda didn't tell me,” she says with a laugh. “And then she showed up.”

The baby's arrival is one of the latest transitions in Headley's life and career.

The Northrop graduate, 44, moved to Fort Wayne from Trinidad a week before her 14th birthday. Her mother and brother still live here.

Headley starred in Broadway's “The Lion King” in 1997. In 2000, she won a Tony Award for “Aida.” Other theater highlights include a run in “The Bodyguard” in London and “The Color Purple” on Broadway. In the past couple years, she has had TV roles in the Netflix series “She's Gotta Have It” and NBC's “Chicago Med.”

Her 2009 album “Audience of One” won the Grammy Award for best contemporary R&B gospel album. She released “Broadway My Way” in November and is currently performing shows with it.

When she spoke with The Journal Gazette last month, Headley was finishing up filming for “Sweet Magnolias,” which will debut on Netflix in 2020. She stars with JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Brooke Elliott as one of three friends in the South.

Headley says the show, based on a book series by Sherryl Woods, focuses on the women and their relationships. She thinks it is a beautiful thing to follow their journeys the same way we follow the lives of our friends and family.

“Nothing against the dragons flying in or aliens descending,” she laughs. “But there's a place for those – and I enjoy that as well – but with this there's no hijinks.”

Headley plays Helen Decatur, a lawyer that has traveled the world and brought it back with her, in part through her clothes and art. If you've been following Headley on social media this summer, you know she loves Helen's wardrobe.

“It's fun to every day go in and go 'OK, what's she wearing today?'” she says. “I always say Helen doesn't have children, but she has put her money into her wardrobe and her shoes.”

Working in television hasn't diminished Headley's love of theater and singing. She says working in TV and theater is like having two children.

“Every day you love them both, but sometimes one you like a little more than the other according to their behavior,” she says with another laugh.

The two disciplines are different. With theater, she can spend several months developing the character and then take the audience on a complete journey every night for two and a half hours. With TV, things change every day with new lines and the journey is over the course of a season.

“I think onstage, I know where that journey ends,” Headley says. “With (TV), it's a continuous journey to figure out where she's going to be next season or how we move through each episode and stuff like that.”

There are other trade-offs to the different worlds of stage and TV, too. Some days Headley thinks it would be great to walk into the theater at 6:30 p.m. and be done at 10:30 instead of working on a set for 16 hours. But when onstage there isn't the opportunity to cut and try to make a scene better by running it again.

Headley is glad she has dipped her toes into television, something she finds she enjoys. She hopes to move fluidly between singing and acting as opportunities arise.

Between her pregnancy and the shooting schedule for “Sweet Magnolias,” music had to be put on hold for a while. But she'll be doing a lot of singing this month and next, including a show Oct. 24 at Clyde Theatre that benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne.

Her brother, Iric Headley Jr., is a board member with the organization and asked her if she would do a fundraiser show.

She jokes that her first instinct is always to tell her brother no, but that he knows too many bad stories about her.

In seriousness, Headley says she always looks for opportunities like this to come to Fort Wayne and there isn't a better cause than children like those involved in the organization, which offers after-school programming, primarily to at-risk youth.

“I really do think the children need to come alongside people to help them through, to change environments and change mindsets,” she says. “It wasn't a hard ask from (my brother). I have to give him a hard time, but it wasn't a very hard ask at all.”

The concert will be about 45 minutes of what Headley calls a “naked show” – just her and a pianist.

“What would happen if you sat in my living room one night and I had a great pianist? This is it,” Headley says by way of explaining her goal for the performance.

It will be a way for the singer and the city to catch up. There will be songs from Broadway, pop music and songs that are poignant about being in Fort Wayne.

“Fort Wayne has a very special place in my heart,” she says. “It kept us safe, it introduced me to music theater in a different realm of being in it.”

Headley says she is grateful to the teachers and staff at Northrop who helped change her life by introducing her to music theater and getting her ready for college. She says coming back to Fort Wayne is always a chance for her to say thank you for every lesson and blessing the city offered her.

She says she's going to make the concert a fun night, but she encourages people to buy a ticket to the show regardless of the fact she is performing.

“First and foremost, support the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Headley says. “Hopefully, I'm just icing on that cake of support.”

If you go

What: Heather Headley

When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24

Where: Clyde Theatre, 1808 Bluffton Road

Admission: Reserved seating starts at $35.50; Clyde box office, 1-800-514-3849 and; fundraiser for Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne

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