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Brief Encounter with ... The Bodyguard's Heather Headley

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American actress and singer Heather Headley steps into Whitney Houston's considerable boots in the West End premiere of The Bodyguard, which is currently previewing at the Adelphi Theatre ahead of opening on 5 December 2012.

Adapted from the hit 1992 movie starring Houston and Kevin Costner, the show tells the story of a former Secret Service agent, Frank Farmer (Lloyd Owen), who is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron (Headley) from an unknown stalker - the two then fall in love.

Heather Headley won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her 2000 outing in the title role of Aida. Her other credits include originating the role of Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King.

So, how's it going so far?
It's going really well. Every day I see a new part of the show blossom. There is a really beautiful show emerging - it's kind of like a pregnancy, like, "hey it's happening, and ooh, there's a leg, there's the head!"

How does the stage version differ from the film?
On stage, it's all about character development. The team have done an amazing job. There are characters in the movie that are maybe cursory who have been brought to the forefront, and now it's more of a thriller. There is danger, real danger. It's more about the relationships between the characters, between the sisters, and between the sisters and Frank. These relationships have really been delved into, as much as they can in the two hours. I know that some people think it's going to be the movie on stage, but they'll be in for a surprise. It's like when you read a good book and go to the movie theatre; it's different.

Heather Headley and ensemble

What's your take on screen-to-stage adaptations in general?
Sometimes I'm into it, and sometimes I'm not. I think years ago someone said, "You know what would be great? Bodyguard The Musical." I think I kind of laughed it off. And then I realised that the movie is almost a musical. It's a concert. It's a play, with this music around it. In fact, if there was any one movie I would have picked to make a musical, it would be this one. So yes, sometimes I'm totally against it, but in this case I thought it was right. And how could it not be with our dream team - Thea Sharrock (director), Tim Hatley (designer), Alex Dinelaris (book), Mike Dixon (musical supervision), Chris Egan (orchestration), the list goes on and on. When you put that group together and say, "Move this from that movie screen to the stage," they can do it.

How does it feel to take on Whitney's role?
I was and continue to be a great fan of Whitney Houston. She, in essence, taught me to sing. When I was a child, I didn't have a voice lesson until I was 18 or 19. When The Bodyguard movie came out, I was first in line. I remember saving money to go and see it. I'm as much of a fan of the movie, and of Whitney, as anybody else.

Do you remember when you heard about her death?
I remember that I had signed my contract already, and on the night when I found out she had passed there was a huge sadness, and then all of a sudden all of this anxiety and fear about going ahead with the project. I was like, "Are you kidding me, no way." But then at that moment it went from being a show that Whitney did to it being something that was going to be a part of Whitney's legacy. It changed. Before we thought that Whitney would be there on opening night, and then all of a sudden we're doing it in memory of her. There's something about singing "I Will Always Love You" and some of her other songs; there's this angelic quality over the room. We were going to do it perfectly before, but all of a sudden the intensity changed. I think that she would be happy with it.

Like her, you come from a gospel background
My father was a pastor. I grew up in Trinidad, and our house was right next to the church. For the first 11 years of my life, the sanctuary and my bedroom were separated by a single wall. The church was in essence my playground. I learned how to sing in church, how to cry in church, and our church had a kind of acting program that I did there. When you're singing "amazing grace how sweet the sound," that people have understood that they once were saved, once were lost, and now they're found. And it's gospel music; it's deeper, you sing about God, and people's hearts are stirred, and it goes so far back, and into slavery days. It's just this great meeting place.

As a child, you sit there and listen to the biggest singer, the oldest singer, and then one day they call you up there. One day, somebody stands and teaches you a riff that you have to repeat, and you learn. It's really a beautiful thing. So many singers have grown up in the church - Jennifer Hudson, Whitney, Aretha. Aretha sang all the way through church and they were mad at her when she had to leave. I still sing in church and it's the greatest thing I can do.

Heather Headley, Lloyd Owen and ensemble

What a great training ground for musical theatre
It really is. I don't want to call church acting, but you really have to think through what you're singing. You really have to think, 'Ok, what do these words mean?' And to me, that's exactly what I took. I remember when I was headed to Broadway, when we had to sing "The Gods Love Nubia" at the end of Aida; I had to think, 'What does this mean? What is this song and how would I sing this at church?'

When I was a child, every day I would go in the church and close the shades and I would sing. It was as hot as a sauna, but if I made a mistake I would start again. I would have my little microphone, my little comb, and I would point at the pews and pretend I was singing to people. I always used to joke around, and then one day my mom said, "You know, you were singing to people, because the angels were sitting there and listening to you." And I still believe that. To this day, if I need to practice in m house, I still turn off all the lights. I go back, I go back into darkness, and I always go back there in my head.

The Bodyguard continues at the Adelphi Theatre. Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing on 12 December 2012 and get your top-price ticket and access to our post-show Q&A with the cast plus free folio poster for first 20 bookers - all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £40.00! Click here for details.


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