Posted by: ritagone | June 26, 2019

That Was Heather Headley!!!



Almost 20 years ago Michael and I were in New York City and went to see a musical called “Aida,” based on the opera by Verdi, the story of a Nubian princess who falls in love with the Egyptian captain who enslaves her people.  The music was by none other than Sir Elton John, and the lyrics were from Sir Tim Rice, who gave us “Evita,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and my personal favorite Broadway show, “Chess.”  The cast was composed of names I wasn’t too familiar with at the time, performers who have incidentally gone on to become Broadway regulars: Adam Pascal, Sherie Rene Scott, and, in the title role, a tall, thin, stately woman of color named Heather Headley.

We didn’t know any of the performers by sight back then, as I said, so when we read the wall box in the lobby that informed audiences as to who was “off” that performance before the show, we weren’t too upset to read that the part of Aida would be played by someone else, not Heather Headley.  Normally you go to a Broadway show lured by a performer or two whose names resonate with you:  Patti Lupone, Bette Midler, Kelli O’Hara, whoever you know and love from past performances.  But because, as I said, we didn’t know the cast of this show, we took it in stride that the female lead wasn’t performing in this show and went happily into the theater to find our seats.

It was a fabulous show, with brilliant music and a great story.  And the female lead was amazing!  At some point I whispered into Michael’s ear, “Heather Headley couldn’t be any better than this gal!”

When the show was over, some two hours later, we were happy and humming the tunes.  We wanted to know who the understudy for Heather Headley had been, because we had been blown away, so we walked up to one of the theater staff and asked, “Who played Aida in this performance?”

“Heather Headley,” she said, looking at us like we were from another planet.

We were a bit awe-struck, so we wandered back to the wall box on the lobby wall, and there we discovered that we weren’t being notified that Heather Headley was not in today’s performance; we were being told that Heather Headley would be on vacation for two weeks starting a week from the day of today’s performance.  So yes, we had sat through “Aida” and that was Heather Headley!

Incidentally, she went on to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical that year against four other incredibly talented performers. (And she even thanked God for the award.)

So what’s my point about all of this?  What was a lesson that I learned from this experience, because, like so many other events in one’s life, this one taught me something invaluable: YOU DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW.

Michael and I were so sure that we were hearing an understudy for Heather Headley, we didn’t really get the chance to appreciate Heather Headley herself in her Tony Award-winning performance.  We kept shaking our heads at this singer who was belting out these songs and acting up a storm playing Aida, wondering how Heather Headley could possibly do any better, when all the time we were seeing and hearing Heather Headley at her finest.

So what if you’re seeing something and it’s the genuine thing, not a replacement, not an understudy?

We need to appreciate everything around us for what it is, and when we find greatness, when we hear it and watch it and experience it, we need to stand up and applaud until our hands sting.

I’ve never seen Heather Headley in a live performance since then.

I’d love to do so, this time knowing for sure that it was the real thing – Heather Headley – that I was watching.

And I wish for you that you have the ability to recognize greatness while you’re in its presence, not later.


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