It’s always a thrilling time when a new musical opens in the West End, especially when it’s big enough that the fan anticipation surrounds it with promise. Towards the end of this year, there are two such musicals coming to town: The Bodyguard and Viva Forever!. The Bodyguard is adapted from the Oscar-winning 1992 film of the same name which starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, whilst Viva Forever is an original story based on the music of hit British girl band The Spice Girls. Both have had a buzz of excitement swirling around them since their arrival was officially announced, and it’s certain that come opening night, the Adelphi Theatre and the Piccadilly Theatre will be boasting full houses. For the casts, one would suspect that it’s going to be a time filled with equal measures of exhilaration and fear, especially for their leading ladies. It’s always hard to originate a principal role in a new show, and with so many expecting eyes fixing their gaze on The Bodyguard and Viva Forever!, the focus on them is going to be even more concentrated than usual. With that in mind, this may be a good time to get to know them a little better.
Broadway actress Heather Headley will be making her West End debut this autumn when she comes to London to star in The Bodyguard, which has a book by Alex Dinelaris and is to be directed by Thea Sharrock. She plays world-famous singer Rachel Marron opposite Lloyd Owen as ex-Secret Service agent-turned-bodyguard Frank Farmer who is hired to protect her when threats are made against her life, with love unexpectedly blossoming between the two.
Trinidad-born Headley is a Tony and Grammy Award winning actress who first became known when she originated the role of Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King. She then went on to originate the title role in Aida, for which she won the Tony Award for ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ (2000), and also took part in the concert production of musical Dreamgirls alongside Audra McDonald and Lillias White.She released her debut solo album This Is Who I Am in 2002, followed up by In My Mind (2006) and Audience Of One (2009); this third album won her a Grammy Award for ‘Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album’. She has also regularly worked with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, most recently performing with him on stage on a number of occasions during his My Christmas tour.
The 38-year-old actress/singer-songwriter wowed attendees of The Bodyguard launch with her rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’. Houston became a global superstar with songs such as ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘One Moment In Time’, ‘Saving All My Love’, and of course, ‘I Will Always Love You’, while The Bodyguard became a highly successful film, but Headley has been rather vocal about the fact that she doesn’t want audiences to compare her to the late singer: “I want people to come in and say that this is Heather’s version – this is Heather playing Rachel Marron and singing Whitney songs…I am always trying to find a way to make them my own but still acknowledge and keep the integrity of her music.”
British television actress Hannah John-Karmen also makes her West End debut this autumn in the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever!, featuring a book by Jennifer Saunders and Paul Carrington as director. She plays Viva, a young girl who lives on a houseboat with her mother – to be played by Sally-Ann Triplett – and forms a girl band with her friends, entering an X Factor-style TV talent show.
John-Karmen took part in the developmental workshops of the musical alongside Triplett and was officially offered the lead role after impressing the creative team. The 22-year-old actress trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and is most known for her TV work, most prominently as burlesque dancer Rosa Maria Ramirez in The Hour and Jo ‘the ice-cream girl’ Portman in Misfits, but has also appeared in The Syndicate, Whitechapel and Black Mirror, among others. A big Spice Girls fan, she reportedly dressed up as Scary Spice with her friends when she was young and still counts a poster from the 1997 Spicewold movie among her treasured possessions.
The Spice Girls are the best-selling girl band of all time, having sold over 100 million records worldwide. Although they split in 2000, they still have a huge fan following, a majority of which will no doubt be tripping over themselves to see Viva Forever! John-Karmen – who describes the role she’ll portray as a girl who is, “young, vibrant, with stars in her eyes – very innocent” – shouldn’t be too concerned about taking on their songs though; as the Viva Forever! Launch, Mel B commented that “they sing them better than we do!”
No-one can ever tell how well a show will do ahead of opening, but with such two brightly shining stars leading them, The Bodyguard and Viva Forever! have a very good chance.
By Julie Robinson (@missulie25)
Content updated 1st May 2014