The Bodyguard may be one of 2012’s most recent additions to the West End, but it is already proving to be one of its most successful. It’s always going to be difficult to adapt a classic film for the stage without destroying what people loved about it in the first place, but the musical of The Bodyguard has shown that it is certainly possible. A large part of that rests on the shoulders of its cast, particularly those of its leading lady. Broadway star Heather Headley plays singing superstar ‘Rachel Marron, the role first made famous by the late Whitney Houston in the original 1992 film. Houston was a woman with one hell of a set of lungs on her, and to do justice to the songs she recorded for The Bodyguard is no easy task. Headley is widely acclaimed for her sensational voice however and more than steps up to Houston’s challenge.
While Headley more than deserves all the praise being heaped upon her, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it’s not her performance alone that is helping the musical to cement a good reputation for itself. She shares her spot on the stage of the Adelphi Theatre with a certain young lady; her alternate, who plays the role of ‘Rachel Marron’ at certain performances each week. It can be all too easy to skim over the alternate in favour of the promoted star, their talent shaded by their unknown name. I’ve seen many alternates perform in various West End shows and have never felt cheated. In fact, I’ve sometimes booked specifically to see the alternate, such as when I took my daughter to see Jonathan Williams play ‘Jean Valjean’ in Les Miserables rather than the ‘preferred’ Alfie Boe. That is why, instead of featuring an ensemble member in this week’s In Profile, I decided to put the spotlight on the wonderfully talented lady who acts as Headley’s alternate in The Bodyguard: Gloria Onitiri.
Onitiri studied English and Drama at the University of Birmingham. She has a wide range of theatre credits to her name, her most notable playing the role of ‘Nala’ in Disney’s The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre (this provides another stage link between her and Headley, who originated the same role on Broadway). She also has another West End musical under her belt in the form of Avenue Q, in which she played understudy ’Mrs Thistletwat’, Girl Bear, Kate, Lucy and Gary Coleman’ at the Noel Coward Theatre. Other credits include ‘Sheila’ in Takeaway (Theatre Royal Stratford East), ‘Arion’ in Cressida Brown’s Amphibians (Bridewell Theatre) and taking part in a rehearsed reading of Been So Long as ‘Simone’ (Young Vic).
Touring is all part of a stage performer’s life and Onitiri hasn’t skipped out on that little rite of passage, having played ‘Miss Sherman’ in a touring production of Fame in Holland. She also travelled ‘oop North’ to play the title role in The Bachaae (National Theatre of Scotland) and was ‘Morgan Le Fay’ in Pendragon, performing the role at the Northcott Theatre, Minack Theatre, Peacock Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Theatre and even in Japan. Further theatre credits include the roles of ‘Aisha, Juliette and Violca’ in Hurried Steps (New Shoes Theatre) and ‘Sylvia’ in The Dreaming (Northcott Theatre and Lindbury Studio, Royal Opera House) and she has also made several film and television appearances, such as ‘Marcia’ in Bad Girls.
Onitiri is now appearing (at certain performances) as ‘Rachel Marron’ in the West End’s latest smash-hit show, The Bodyguard. I’ve heard many positive things from audience members who have seen her on stage, with one reviewing team not even realising they were watching the alternate until finding out from a fellow theatre-goer during the interval. Onitiri has a stunning voice all of her own, and it seems both she and Headley are more than capable of matching up to Houston, while also making her iconic role very much their own. Onitiri is a bright star in the West End right now and it would be money well spent if you took the chance to see her be ‘Queen of the Night’.
By Julie Robinson @missjulie25
Saturday 29th December 2012
You can follow Gloria on Twitter: @Glowtiri