PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: Godspell's Celisse Henderson

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Celisse Henderson, currently starring in the Broadway revival of Godspell, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire with random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.

Celisse Henderson
Celisse Henderson

This show marks Henderson's Broadway debut. She has appeared onstage in the Off-Broadway production of In Transit, the national touring company of Wicked, at Carnegie Hall in Jerry Springer: The Opera and in Bernstein's Mass with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Television credits include "The Electric Company," "30 Rock, "Rescue Me," "White Collar," "The Big C" and "Are We There Yet?"

Full given name: Celisse Allegra (I know, I know... just like the allegry medicine) Henderson
Where you were born/where you were raised: Born in Oakland, CA, but I lived all over the Bay Area. Suisun, Antioch, San Francisco, etc!
Zodiac Sign: Cancer
What your parents did/do for a living:

Both of my parents are outrageously gifted music/voice teachers. My mother teaches High School Choir (just like "Glee" but for real) in addition to HS Jazz Band and Orchestra. My father is the department chair of the music department at a junior college in Pittsburg, CA, after teaching voice and gospel music for 20+ years at UC Berkeley.

Siblings: Yes! Two awesome sisters: Carlena and Charde.
Current audition song/monologue: "Since I Fell For You,” an old jazz standard. I sing Barbra Streisand’s arrangement from the early 70’s. For some reason it is the sort of song that, through the years, just gets deeper and deeper for me.
Special skills: Hmm. I feel like anything I say will inevitably make me sound like a tool. LOL. I play a ton of instruments, babies love me, and I make mean grilled cheese sandwich.
Something you're REALLY bad at: Jumping on trampolines
First Broadway show you ever saw: ACTUALLY on Broadway, or shows that came through my hometown?

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The first Broadway touring production I saw was Aida. I saw it 3 times at the Orpheum Theatre in SF. It changed my life. I saw all the major Broadway touring productions there. It was a real treat to go back in 2009 and perform Wicked at the theatre I had grown up seeing shows in! My first real Broadway show in NYC was The Producers.

If you could go back in time and catch any performance, what would it be? Funny Girl. I mean I SHOULD say Raisin in the Sun, Dreamgirls, The Great White Hope, etc. But, as a huge Streisand fan, I would have loved to see that iconic, legendary performance for myself.
Current show you have been recommending to friends: Porgy and Bess. Audra McDonald. ‘nuff said.
Favorite showtune of all time: Now you’re getting tired of it, but “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” (You knew that was coming).
Some favorite modern musicals: -Sunday in the Park With George is my favorite Sondheim hands down.
-Caroline, or Change
-Next to Normal
-See What I Wanna See, a BEAUTIFUL Michael John LaChiusa piece
-Passing Strange
Some favorite classic musicals: Gypsy. What a BEAUTIFULLY crafted story, score, and journey for each character. The 2008 revival with Patti LuPone is one of the best things I have EVER seen.
Stage or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:

Bea Arthur. So random, I know, but such a talent and a sense of humor. I always had this vision in my mind of us meeting and immediately hitting it off! We would be best friends and play bridge and chess together on my days off. Actually with that said, I would have loved to perform with all of the Golden Girls INCLUDING Betty White, who I haven’t given up on yet!

Your personal vocal idols, living or dead:

Okay, this is a serious list, so read closely: Ella Fitzgerald
I was not allowed to listen to secular music growing up. (I am from a VERY conservative Christian family.) The only music that was acceptable to my parents (besides classical and gospel music) was Ella and BABS. So, I spent a lot of time as a young little girl singing to “A Tisket-A-Tasket" on my parents' old record player in my room.

Whitney Houston
I mean, who wouldn’t say this voice? Even if you strip away the musicality, the phrasing, the vocal gymnastics... no one's tone on this EARTH sounds like that. No one. I will ALWAYS admire her work and the beautiful gift of music she gave us for 20+ years of her career.

Crystal Lewis
A random choice to a lot of you out there. If you don’t know who this is, find her. NOW! She is a Christian Contemporary singer I have listened to since I was probably 13 or 14. Beautiful voice. Beautiful spirit. Beautiful music.

And last but CERTAINLY not least... yup you guessed it. BARBRA STREISAND! I would elaborate, but I’m sure you’re not interested in a 20-page response. grin

The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:

I saw Audra McDonald live for the first time at Zellerbach Hall in 2005. My friend, an incredibly talented opera composer named Jake Heggie, had written a piece for her the year prior. He knew what a big fan of hers I was, so he brought me along. At 20 years old I sat in that auditorium as she sang to all 2,089 of us and it felt like I was the only one in the room. She has a way of engaging audience members in such a personal and dynamic way. I was forever changed.

Knowing the way I felt listening to her sing stories and watching the way that others were affected truly resonated with me as an actress and performer. I count it a blessing that I was given that very lucky ticket to see that incredible performance.

Music that makes you cry, any genre: Well, lots of music makes me cry. Two things in particular. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings Op 11” (one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard in my life), and anything by Tina Dico. Don’t know who she is? Look. Her. Up.
MAC or PC? What’s a PC?
Most played song on your iPod: Yikes... such a tough question. Right now? “Help Me” by Joni Mitchell. I am not new to that song, but I am very new to “Court and Spark.” I just bought it on vinyl and I’m falling in love all over again.
Most-visited websites: apartmenttherapy.com
etsy.com
yelp.com
Twitter (I am such an old lady about social media, but I am trying!)
Favorite Tweeters: @yourauntdiane (Thanks, Morgan.)
@ZooeyDeschanel (My crush on her is shameful!)
@BwayGodspell (To make my boss happy)
Last book you read: "What’s Your Poo Telling You?”
Must-see TV shows:

"New Girl" (Just watch it!) "Grey’s Anatomy" (No matter its up and downs, I am a very faithful viewer.)

"Dance Moms" (I am legitimately embarrassed that I have seen every episode this season, but I caught a weird marathon and now I’m hooked. Those poor girls!)

Last good movie you saw: Certainly not the last movie I’ve seen but "Milk" was on IFC the other day, and I watched it twice again in one week. Sean Penn’s performance in that film is astounding, along with a beautifully told story about a beautiful man.
Some films you consider classics: "The Color Purple"
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X"
"Forrest Gump"
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Tina Dico
Pop culture guilty pleasure: See above TV confession: "Dance Moms"
Favorite cities: San Francisco. (Truly home for me)
Portland. (Because it feels like San Francisco)
Paris. (I’ve never been, but I keep getting all these weird signs in my life about Paris. I am professing that I will go soon and LOVE IT!)
Favorite sport/team/player: So sad… I know NOTHING about sports BUT Madonna was fierce at the Super Bowl this year.
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: My mom bought me "Barbra Joan Streisand," the album from 1971, when I was 11 years old. I had other records and tapes but they were all ones I had sort of just taken from my parents.

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This was the first LP that was mine. My mother said she was at the local hospice thift shop, saw this record for $0.75 and thought I might like her! Can you believe that? I was 11? What 11 year old had real musical tastes? Well, my mom was spot on because owning that record became the start of my obsession with all things BABS.

Greatest Band of All Time: One of my FAVORITE bands of all time is Incubus. “Fungus Amungus,” “Science,” “Morning View.” Album after killer album.
When you first realized you could sing:

I’m not sure when everyone ELSE realized I could, but as my parents tell it, I have been acting out songs and scenes since I was a little girl. In the bath tub, at church, etc My mother tells a story of me being a toddler, maybe 2 years old and sitting in a pew in church, wiggling out of her arms and running up to the front of the stage to try to grab the mic while the preacher was preaching.

My mom (very embarrassed obviously) went to grab me and brought me back to sit down. This apparently happened 2-3 times and finally after a lot of laughs from the congregation the preacher said, “Just let the baby sing,” and I went to town for awhile. The best part is that I wasn’t really speaking yet so I wasn’t singing any words. I just loved using my voice!

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:

You know the real truth is I never thought (seriously) that I would do anything else. Other than a very short-lived time when I was in 6th grade on “bring your parent to work day.” My friend’s dad, who was a lawyer, wrote on the board what he makes a year. I thought to myself that that number could buy me A LOT of Pogs. I wanted to be a lawyer for a hot second, but beyond that... ALWAYS a performer.

How you got your Equity card: Doing the 1st National tour of Wicked. What a blessing!
Favorite pre-/post- show meal:

I can’t eat a ton before a show, otherwise I feel like I’m gonna puke by the time we start running around. But I do love a greek yogurt and a bowl of berries a few hours before. POST-show?!? I go all in. If I am being good, I love this meal called the "Zen Platter" at this vegetarian restaurant in the West Village called Quantum Leap. It is brown rice, steamed vegetables, and sautéed seitan strips in this mandarin orange sauce. Yum! If I’m being bad, let’s just say I am no stranger to some sliders and fries.

Favorite liquid refreshment: Coconut Water! Yuuuumy!
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups: Yelling at Wallace Smith. It really gets me in the mood to spread the “Good News!”
Most vocally challenging role you have ever played:

The role I am playing now: Me! There are two parts to this. In Godspell we never leave the stage, which means we all sing in pretty much EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. If you are familiar with Stephen Schwartz’ music... he likes his ladies belting for Jesus! However, if you’re not careful, it can be incredibly taxing.

Part 2 is that I sing a song that has been re-imagined with me and my voice in mind. Well, the only difficulty is that when you choose to sing through your whole voice, bottom all the way to your top, it can be tricky some days to navigate.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:

I was in a show called Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco when I was 18 years old. It is a musical revue show in a small cabaret house in North Beach. In one particular number my costume was this beautiful blue beaded dress, 50's style, with a short poofy skirt. I wore satin blue bloomers under the dress just in case the skirt moved. After being in the show for a few months, I lost a considerable amount of weight and my clothes were fitting loosely. One night I was on stage doing the number and I all of a sudden started getting laughs in the middle of the song. I looked down and realized my decorative blue bloomers were around my ankles! So, I hiked em' up, made some silly comment to the audience and pressed on!

Worst costume ever:

In Act 2 of Wicked there is a very short section referred to as the “ballroom cross” for the ensemble. We are literally on stage for all of 20 seconds in these GORGEOUS, hand beaded gowns that cost a ridiculous amount of money. Even though those dresses were so beautiful, I HATED wearing them! They were heavy and VERY long. The amount of times I almost tripped and fell into the pit is truly astounding!

Worst job you ever had: One particular babysitting job for VERY unruly children some years ago. They shall remain nameless.
Favorite Stephen Schwartz tune not in this show: "The Spark of Creation”
If you could trade roles/tracks with anyone in the show for a week, who would it be? I would love to be Nick Blaemire in the show and spend all of “We Beseech Thee” avoiding the trampoline.
Favorite screen/commercial appearances: One of my fave on-camera gigs was for the show "Electric Company." I do a ton of rapping and singing with kids about lots of silly things. It’s in syndication so I am still getting friends calling me very confused about why I am on TV rapping in a pink and black leopard print vest. LOL.
Leading lady role you've been dying to play: I would LOVE to be Caroline in Caroline, or Change when I am age appropriate. I think it is a beautifully written role and show.
Leading man role you wish you could play: Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Sorry, Uzo)
Something about you that surprises people: That I can fluently speak 8 languages. I can’t, but that would be amazing wouldn’t it?
Something you are incredibly proud of: My knowledge of all things Etsy.
Something you're embarrassed to admit: I have a stuffed animal, or animal(s), I sometimes sleep with...
Career you would want if not a performer: I would want to run a vintage shop that sold things that feel like my Nana.
Three things you can't live without: God
Almond milk
Shecky (my stuffed Turtle)
"I'll never understand why…" ... I got so lucky in life.
Words of advice for aspiring performers: My favorite quote of all time is by Maya Angelou. She says "Love is a condition so powerful, it just may be that which holds the stars in the firmament."

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I just love that concept... that the power of love in and of itself could be the thing that literally holds the stars in the sky! Love that powerful cannot, and will not, fail. If you love singing, dancing, acting, writing, producing, or just plain creating like that, then let no one convince you that your love is not real and true. It's holding the stars in the sky, for gosh sakes!

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