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Heather Headley to Take Over for Jennifer Hudson in Broadway’s ‘The Color Purple’

Heather Headley, the theater-fan favorite who hasn’t had an ongoing Broadway role since she won a 2000 Tony Award for “Aida,” will take over for Jennifer Hudson in “The Color Purple,” which Hudson departs in May.

Hudson’s six-month contract in “Color Purple” is up May 8. Although it’s more common for performers to sign onto ongoing Broadway musicals for a year, Hudson’s contract was half that, owing to the demands of the Oscar winner’s schedule. (The exit date seems poised to throw a wrench into any potential Tony Awards campaign for Hudson; all the nominators will have seen her performance in advance of the nominations announcement on May 3, but many of the awards’ out-of-town voters may not see the show until later in the month.)

Headley, who seems like she could also be a good fit to play the musical’s protagonist Celie, will play the featured role of Shug Avery, the jazz singer who has a profound effect on Celie’s life.

Headley made her Broadway debut as Nala in the original cast of “The Lion King,” and went on to play the title character in the next Disney musical, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida.” After her Tony win in that show, she launched a recording career, and in 2012 played the Whitney Houston role in the musical adaptation of “The Bodyguard” on the West End. In 2013, she appeared in a brief Broadway run of a concert by classical vocal quartet Il Divo.

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Headley joins “The Color Purple” May 10, appearing alongside a cast that includes Cynthia Erivo and Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black”). Since opening in December, the production has mostly sold solidly, if not spectacularly; whether the departure of Hudson will have any effect on the box office remains to be seen.

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