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The Bodyguard
Heather Headley will be onstage in London for an adaptation of “The Bodyguard.” The show will open Dec. 5.

Houston role takes ex-city resident to London stage

Almost every time I have spoken with former Fort Wayne resident Heather Headley, the same name has come up: Whitney Houston.

Like a lot of aspiring singers at a certain age and time, Headley was heavily influenced by Houston.

She recalls first seeing music videos by Houston on TV when she was a girl growing up in Trinidad.

“I didn’t know all the tricks of the studio,” she says. “All I knew was that there was this girl belting the life out of a song. And then you hear her live, and it’s the same voice.

“Her voice was a crazy, ridiculous gift,” Headley says.

And more than a year ago, one of Headley’s agents came to her with a crazy, ridiculous job offer.

Some theater professionals in London intended to mount a stage version of the hit movie “The Bodyguard,” and they wanted Headley to play Rachel Marron, easily Houston’s most popular screen role.

Headley says she was skeptical from the start – she assumed the script would be subpar and she doubted that the creators of the musical could get the rights to the songs popularized by Houston.

“I called back and said, ‘You can’t have the music so what is the music going to be?’ ” she recalls. “The last thing I wanted to do was be up onstage singing, ‘I am Rachel Maaaarronnnn; … I am Rachel Maaaarronnnn …’ ”

But the script was surprisingly solid, she says, and all the necessary rights had been secured.

The show’s handicrafters told her that she would have to move to London for a lengthy time, to which Headley says she replied: “Absolutely not. I like my life. There’s no way (husband Brian Musso) would let his wife and child go anywhere.”

But Musso and the rest of Headley’s extended clan were encouraging and so excited about the prospect of sampling London’s sights and attractions that Headley says she wondered “if they were going to have any time to see the show.”

Headley says she participated in a table reading of the script that went surprisingly well and that’s when she had a moment of weakness.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’ ” she says.

The logistics and the artistic challenges of the show were daunting enough before something occurred that no one could have predicted. On Feb. 11, Houston died.

“When Feb. 11 happened, I had signed (the contract) already and maybe it was good that I’d signed it,” Headley says. “Because all of sudden, I felt a weight.

“She had passed,” she says. “And my mind went first to her family and then to the show and then I thought, ‘My goodness. What have I gotten myself into?’ ”

Headley has come to see the show in a new light since February.

She says the stage version of “The Bodyguard,” which will feature additional songs that were hits for Houston but were not on the film’s soundtrack, will represent the first time the theater establishment has focused on a catalog of songs by a black woman.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor her,” she says.

At the same time, “The Bodyguard” was never intended to be a unoriginal reproduction of the film, Headley says.

The show’s book was written by Alexander Dinelaris with supervision and input from the author of the original screenplay, Lawrence Kasdan.

Headley says some scenes have changed, some characters have changed and some attitudes have changed.

She says playing Rachel Marron is similar to playing Fanny Brice from “Funny Girl” – an actress must acknowledge the great artist who created the role (Barbra Streisand in the case of Brice) and then go her own way.

Rehearsing begins in earnest in September, previews begin Nov. 6 and the show opens Dec. 5 at the Adelphi Theater.

A move to Broadway is all but assured.

Heather says she and her young son John David will move to London for the duration of the show.

Because of occupational obligations, Musso will make the lengthy trans-Atlantic trip every two weeks.

“At first, I was very concerned that Brian’s not going to be with us,” Headley says. “I love my husband. I actually like him too. I like hanging out with him. It’s going to be tough not having him there every day.”

Headley says she has a great nanny to help with 2-year-old John David, whom she calls “Commander General.”

“We are all his loyal minions,” she says. “I kind of thought I would have some control, that I would call the shots. After a year and a half, I finally gave up.”

Decades ago, women in church in the Caribbean used to tell Headley, “I pray you will one day have a child just like yourself.”

“I didn’t know what they meant,” she says. “Now I do.”

Decades ago, Headley sang Houston’s music into a hairbrush or something similar and now fate has brought her to another deliciously ironic place.

“I was supposed to be playing this in my bedroom,” Headley says of the role of Rachel Marron. “I love how things have come amazingly full circle and God is giggling at me.”

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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