Powerhouse vocalist Heather Headley is currently in rehearsals for the London world premiere of The Bodyguard, the new musical based on the film of the same name, which begins performances at the West End's Adelphi Theatre Nov. 6, prior to an official opening Dec. 5. Headley, who co-stars opposite The Bodyguard of Lloyd Owen, is cast as superstar Rachel Marron, the role created on screen by the late Whitney Houston. Directed by Thea Sharrock with a book by Alex Dinelaris, the score boasts Houston's greatest hits, which allow Headley the chance to wrap her impressive, soaring voice around such tunes as "Saving All My Love," "I'm Your Baby Tonight," "Run to You," "I Have Nothing," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and "I Will Always Love You," among others. During her third week in rehearsal, I had the pleasure of chatting by phone with the Tony winner about her latest project, her first musical theatre venture since her Tony-winning turn in Broadway's Aida. The Grammy-winning pop star spoke about the pressure of following in Whitney Houston's footsteps, combining marriage and motherhood with a demanding stage role and the release of her newest solo recording, "Only One In the World." That interview follows.
Question: How did you originally get involved with The Bodyguard?
Heather Headley: Since Aida, my agent and I have been looking for what the right next show would be, so my agent reads through scripts, and I'd be like, "Okay, we can do this," and maybe it would fall through or it wasn't the right show. But my agent said, "I'm going to find a show for you." A year-and-a-half ago he called me and was like, "I need you to sit down. I think I may have found it… blah, blah, blah…" He says, "Well, they're doing The Bodyguard." And, I just started laughing, and I was like, "That's a joke…because you can't do it, and secondly you can't do it because nobody can ever get the rights to it."… They have it on lockdown. And, he said, "No, I read the script. I think it's great. I'll send it to you." I said, "Oh, good. Send me the script, but send me the music" — because, of course, they've written new music for it because there's no way that they have the music for this show, from the movie. And he goes, "No, I think they have the music." And, I said, "Well, that's impossible. I even know some of these people… There is no way. There is no way they have the music." And, they did. For six years, they've been pounding on doors and got the rights to all of Whitney [Houston]'s catalogue, and so I went to read it. They were doing a reading of it — a table reading — and asked me if I would come in to read it, but also just like another audition for all of us: to audition each other, I guess. So I came in, did the reading and liked it a lot. I fell in love with it. Just like, "Oh my gosh. This is a show. It's a Broadway show. It's all the music," and so that's what happened. And, I think a lot of people think that we started it after Whitney's passing, but they've been working on it for quite, quite some time.
Question: Had you seen the film? Had you been a fan of the film?
Headley: Oh, Andrew, come on! I've been playing Rachel Marron since I was like 14 when I saw this! [Laughs.] I just didn't want to play her on stage. I liked playing her in my bathroom! [Laughs.] But, no, I remember [being in] high school when we heard Whitney was doing this movie. "Whitney was going to bring this movie out, and it's with Kevin Costner!" I remember saving my money up and hitting the movie theatre right when it opened. I am a fan of hers… When you saw the movie, it was kind of every girl's dream — whether you could sing or not — to kind of be a part of that. It was great fun to do that and see the movie and be a part of it. I'm definitely a fan, which is another reason why I was trepidatious — hesitant — about taking it on, even before her passing…because I am a fan, a big fan. I always tell people this: "A few people taught me to sing. It's a short list." And, I don't mean that in a proud kind of way. I mean it in that, I actually listened to Whitney sing and listened to CeCe Winans. I listened to them. I knew every riff — I still do — what they did, what they sounded like. In essence, they were kind of voice teachers, you know what I mean? Because I didn't really have a voice teacher until I went to college, so all I did was sit down and listen to these women sing, so, yes, I'm a great fan of the movie, definitely of Whitney, and to some extent, a student of hers.
Headley: I believe Whitney knew that it was happening, of course. I'm told she was aware that, of course, it was happening. And, she would have been invited, of course, which I [wouldn't have known] how to handle. But she would have been invited and been here…
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