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Interview with Heather Headley

31 December 2013 Charlie Kenber

“I want to try it on, just one time, one time!”

American singer-songwriter Heather Headley knows how to work hard. In the summer she was sadly forced to step down from her leading role as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard in the West End to avoid permanently harming her voice. However, the award-winning vocalist has not said her final goodbye to London: she is returning for a one-off concert in February, featuring songs from the show amongst many others. We caught up with her ahead of the concert…

London Calling: How did this concert come about?

Heather Headley: I’d been thinking about doing it while I was in The Bodyguard. The show took up a lot of time and a lot of vocal strength. As I was leaving I remember that night thinking, “I don’t feel like this is the last song yet”. I want to say thank you and sing goodbye.

Also I haven’t sung different things for the English audience. I need to say thank you in a different way. Give me one more song to sing, one more encore. And instead of the audience asking for the encore this time I’m asking for it! I’m asking for the encore from London.

LC: What can people expect from the night?

HH: There’ll be stuff from my album, and stuff of course from the shows. The problem is that doing a show I get limited to singing that stuff, but when you put me on my own…I’m hoping I can get everybody out of there in four hours!

LC: How did you find doing The Bodyguard?

HH:I loved doing it, I loved being with the cast and having this amazing group of people around me, and I do believe – I didn’t get to see other shows – but I will blindly tell you that we had one of the most talented casts in the West End…beautiful people, inside and out.

They had to become my family while I was over there. I had some tough days because my husband wasn’t with me – there were some tough lonely days like anybody else… But the cast was always a soft place to fall, because they were just sweet. I didn’t see everybody all the time but on stage there was just this support and love. They were a great group of people to work with.

I was told that English people were the most conservative group of people that I will ever run into in my performing life and they said don’t expect them to move, because they will not budge! So I remember that first night we ended and you guys jumped to your feet and I was like “oh, ok”, and then the second night it happened, and the third night and it went on…

It’s not an easy show… I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted people to come in and not feel cheated out of Whitney. I am not her, but I wanted it to be as perfect as it could be, so I had a lot of pressure on myself.

LC: Rumour has it you’re returning to the role on Broadway next year?

HH: Yeah that’s what we’re hoping!

LC: How does being in a musical compare to creating and performing your own work?

HH: It’s a different beast you know. I love the acting part of it and the dancing and being somebody else: for Rachel I could be as mean as I want to and yell at people, and that’s not me in my daily life. You can put on this character every night.

Both are tough, they both are scary and yet they both are amazingly rewarding.

I love to sing my own stuff and sing other people’s things…when I hear the most beautiful songs – I really do think they’re like dresses. I see ones and it’s like “I want to try it on!”

LC: How do you go about creating your albums? They’re usually a mix of your own work and covers…

HH: For me I just want beautiful music. I want music that moves me – that’s why I love musical theatre

LC: Finally, are there any big musical roles you’ve not had a chance at yet that you’d like to?

HH: I don’t mean this in a facetious or obnoxious way at all, I mean this in a very grateful and blessed way: I think I have played them. After Aida I just didn’t think there could be another role that was as much fun or as challenging, or just fun to play on stage, and then Rachel jumped up. I really have been blessed to play these amazing women. I’ve played them and I’ve been very grateful and humbled by them.

I have this itch in me to play Maria one day – but that is like a dress, I just want to try it on one time. I’m sure it’s going to be too big to fit in to and the hem will be too long, but I want to try it on one day!

Encore: An Evening with Heather Headley is on at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Sunday 2nd February 2014. Tickets from £25, available here.

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