The elusive Heather Headley

Posted on January 30th, 2013

If the comments coming into this site and the buzz around town is anything to go by, Heather Headley – star of the West End’s new hit “The Bodyguard” – is more likely to be found on Twitter than on the stage of the Adelphi Theatre. What is going on? One understands that a star’s presence in long (or even short) runs is subject to fitness and good health and that winter bugs can cause unavoidable absences, but when a big American star is imported and her fan base – duly reinforced now by the quality of her notices in this show – pay good money to see her in the flesh, the odds should be on her being there. That’s what committing to a Broadway or West End show is all about – and Headley should know that better than most.

I personally think that it is already an affront to the public that a star should do only six out of eight performances a week anyway – and it is cynical, to say the least, to get the buzz going through previews and press nights and then to drop back to fewer performances because – and this is something relatively new in theatre history – the role is too demanding vocally or physically to do two shows in a day. My first experience of this was when Elaine Paige cut back to six-a-week in “Evita” and the dubious innovation of “the alternate” (as opposed to understudy) came to pass. Interestingly enough, Patti LuPone always did eight a week on Broadway in that same role because she owed it to her public, especially having won a Tony Award. Americans accept nothing less – excepts when they are in London, it seems.

Speaking of awards, was it not the beginning of this nonsense being deemed acceptable when Martine McCutcheon was given an Olivier (a low point in the award’s history) for hardly ever appearing in “My Fair Lady”? Let’s face it – she simply didn’t have the chops for it. One thinks of the great Julie Andrews at 20 playing Eliza on Broadway eight shows a week and then in London for YEARS with barely any amplification and rarely a performance dropped. Performers like that are seasoned pros who wouldn’t dream of letting their public down. Ethel Merman was NEVER off. When Gwen Verdon broke her leg during the run of “Redhead” she joined the audience in a wheelchair to lend moral support. But those ladies weren’t the exception to the rule – they WERE the rule.

To be fair, most seasoned stage stars today wouldn’t dream of doing less than the full eight shows and it would take real incapacitation for them to put on the understudy – Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in “Sweeney Todd” recently – and there are few more taxing roles than those.

It’s not for me to go into the quality of the understudies that have lately been covering for Heather Headley (my message posters have had their say on that front) but the producers of “The Bodyguard” should be concerned that their star is missing for too many performances and that the public are being sold short for their hard-earned cash and they should respond with some sort of public explanation.

When I wrote that Headley was terrific in the show I did so in the knowledge that my readers could pick a performance – ANY performance – and see what I saw. Everybody gets sick and Will Young recently used Twitter to say how wretched he felt at having to miss a week of performances in “Cabaret” because he had no voice. Perhaps Headley should do the same. And PLEASE let’s put an end to this six-shows-a-week-and-two-for-“the alternate” culture. It simply won’t do when West End theatre is struggling to attract and keep its audiences.

Posted in Asides
19 comments on “The elusive Heather Headley
  1. Russell says:

    very well wrote ! thank you edward it’s great that someone listens to whats happening in the musical theatre world.

  2. Karen Cee says:

    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree me. As someone who paid to take 15 people to the performance on 24/1 at a cost of nearly seven hundred pounds I was upset to get an understudy. No explanation was given and the producers hide behind the mantra that they can’t guarantee any particular artist. Surely if that’s is the case they shouldn’t use said artist to flog their seats. Surey that point can’t have eluded them. Disgraceful really.

  3. keith emmett says:

    i thought i mite give it another try and just checked the website and small print, not shore what to do? your review couldn’t be more accurate edward. she’s probably not even scheduled 6 nights , less probably . i found this in small print on website . not shore it its a gamble or not ?!

    (Heather Headley is expected to appear at all evening performances excluding Mon 18 – Sat 23 March, Mon 13 – Wed 15 May, Mon 17 – Wed 19 June, Mon 15 – Wed 17 July inclusive. Lloyd Owen is expected to appear at all performances excluding Fri 15 – Tue 19 Feb, Mon 25 – Sat 30 March, Thu 25 – Sat 27 April, Mon 27 May – Sat 1 June, Mon 1 – Sat 6 July inclusive ………)

  4. Edward says:

    A quick update for all of you who have written. My blog appears to have rattled some cages and this morning I had a direct message from Heather Headley herself via Twitter. She said she found the piece “interesting” and suggested we talk so the facts of the situation could be passed on to my readers. I then sent her my email address whereupon I received this…

    One day we can speak about it all, but know that the aim of the theater, our cast & myself is to give the very best to the audience. Be well

    So clearly all is not about to be revealed and my suspicion is that the good lady has been advised to say nothing.There is clearly a problem and the producers need to make a statement soon. Watch this space.

  5. Karen De Vaughn says:

    I don’t think your comments have merit. If you were a singer maybe you would know the toll on one’s voice singing 10 songs a night 8 times a week has. Since you apparently you are not your opinion is without foundation.
    If someone is to give a good or great performance the voice has to rest. If that does not sit well with what you deem important then who cares. If you are not in charge, does our opinion on how the show is structure important ? I think not.
    Often time we expect the impossible out of artist just to satisfy our selfish desires. You need to examine yourself, if your did you will see your complaints does not have merit.

  6. Edward says:

    I actually know quite a lot about voices, Karen, and sometimes wrongly assume that singers know all about their own. One assumes that Heather Headley thought this show doable when she signed to do it (she plans to take it to New York, too) and if she has since revised that opinion or is suffering from vocal or any other issues then she should come out of the show and the public should be informed. She and the management have a responsibility to that public all of whom have spent good money to see her. Keeping silent is not a reasonable option. But I suspect that the producers know that Headley is a draw (she is a terrific talent) and are loathe to admit that she cannot at this time deliver her contractual obligations. I wish Heather Headley well and hope that this (whatever it is) is something she’ll come through stronger but when you pay £67.50 for a ticket in good faith that you are going to get the show and the star you paid for then I don’t think it is selfish to expect that star to be there.

  7. Karen De Vaughn says:

    Again Edward,I think you are asking too much. If Thea Shadrock or the producers asked your opinion on how many shows a week she should do, then you may have a point. However, I am betting you were not in the room. If that is so then you are like any other fan. We are subject to the long standing theater tradition of the UNDERSTUDY. That is the person is knows the role and stands in for the star UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. How is it that this is acceptable for everyone else but not Heather. We don’t have a double standard do we ?
    We have all been in the theater when the announcer says the role of blah blah tonight is being played by … There is a audible groan roles rolling through the audience ,but that is how it is played
    I suspect you have another agenda however.I think despite your supposed love of her you do not wish her well. It is like your last post wants her to say uncle so that you can gloat and say she was not up for the role. I think you have that post already written.
    Understudies are a fact of like in the theater. A prudent consumer would so a little research before buying a ticket to see if you can determine if she will be there. But for the vast majority of us the long held structure of the play is what we have.
    I will repeat my assertion that you knowledge of the stains and demands of doing eight shows a week on ones voice does not appear to be well founded.

  8. russell says:

    it wasn’t announced that heather wasn’t performing the night i attended the bodyguard musical . and i had checked in advance to see if she was scheduled which the box office which they confirmed . it was only once the performance started i realised, a last minute un rehearsed understudy had took the stage. Everyone is entitled to their opinion the topic of the blog and what the fans of heather and the bodyguard want to know is how many shows is she actually doing and if we decide to go for a second or third time will we actually see her, the website and box office are providing false information. its all over the internet in review sections of trip advisor and ticketmaster. She’s only human i can agree, but her name is plastered all over the show to fill seats, i believe most of the general public enjoy the show as a whole even with an understudy. some people can be easily please . Actual fans of heather have traveled from as far as the states to see her . arriving to the show and feeling cheated as the’ve gone to the trouble of researching her scheduled shows and even on arrival not been told theres and understudy ?! being that dissapointed they leave in the interval . theres no facility to even ring up before and reschedule your tickets, as they don’t supply or want to supply you with that information on who is playing the lead role of racheal ( whitney ) each night . 🙁

  9. Edward says:

    Karen, you speak of the number of shows a star should do as negotiable. The public pay the same price for EVERY show and that should be the contractual norm. If it is decided that an “alternate” (as distinct from an understudy) is required because of the demands of a particular role (as was the case with Evita and later Christine in Phantom) then a poster is displayed outside the theatre saying that “at certain performances the role of…. will be played by….”. But that is not the case here. As for your outrageous assertion that I do not wish Heather Headley well – shame on you. I was a performer myself and wish EVERY artist well. That is not the issue here. The issue is that the public is being misled.

  10. russell says: this says it all !!! 4 someone went to see her and eventually , they did she did the first set then got the understudy to take over !!!

  11. keith emmett says:

    Only just come across this link as the topic has started up again. It’s not really common knowledge, The website should be listing this news

    I personally think she needs to pull out for good vocally this show is too demanding.

  12. keith emmett says:

    she finally admits to not doing matinees but why didn’t she say in the beginning when the show started ? ! vocally too demanding !

  13. Art Dexter says:

    Well done Edward for the honest truth,I had booked matinee tickets months before the shows opening and several weeks before the performance date found out that H.H does not perform at matinees,I managed to resell the tickets via a well known auction site,then did hours of online research to find out when she would be performing due to holidays etc,re booked for an evening performance having read that she would be back performing and yes you guessed it an other understudy was put in place,gutted to say they least but not as gutted as 2 guys I was chatting to in the interval who had travelled from Miami to see her having been assured by the box office that she was going to be starring.I went to the Albert Hall last night (5th May),to see the charity event “night of a 1000 stars” which was to star H.H,and hello and behold half way thru to the show it was announced that Ms H.H would not be appearing…………………I give up

  14. Edward says:

    For me, Art, the show’s management must bear the brunt for so many peoples’ disappointment. It quickly became evident, not long after the opening, that Miss Headley (whom I hugely admire) had taken on more than she could chew. Vocal problems ensued (whether through sickness or strain or both) – even on six shows a week – but by now the reviews were out, the show was a hit, and the management were not about to admit a serious problem. And so it has gone on. Interesting how Miss Headley managed to do both the Lloyd Webber TV special and the Oliviers (where she was nominated) but still not fulfill her obligations to the public at the Adelphi. In these difficult times West End ticket prices are a stretch for many of Headley’s fans so the management should have come clean, dealt with, and rectified the situation – they have a duty to paying customers.

  15. Alun says:

    I think what you’ve written is unfair: I really don’t think anybody could sing the Whitney Houston songbook eight times a week, and better to have Heather Headley and also Gloria Onitiri (her alternate, who by all accounts is terrfic in the role also) giving it 100% at their respective performances than HH performing all shows under par and possibly doing serious long-term vocal damage. Furthermore, your citation of Patti LuPone playing all 8 Broadway performances as Evita is inaccurate. A lady called Terri Klausner played all matinees during LuPone’s B’way run, and indeed many more performances during the pre-NYC try-outs as Patti had severe vocal issues. This is all extremely well-documented, not least by PL herself in her autobiography!

  16. Edward says:

    I hold my hand up, Alun, to getting my Patti LuPone/Evita facts wrong. I probably had Gypsy in mind when I wrote that. Of course, Elaine Paige and Patti eventually both had alternates – and I don’t believe such a thing routinely existed in London’s West End before Evita and subsequently Christine in Phantom. But it was made VERY clear outside the theatre that at certain performances the role would be taken by…. (along with a photo of the alternate). You and one or two others, Alun, accuse me of being “unfair” – but what about unfairness to the audience who spend a great deal of hard-earned money often on the strength of the star’s reviews. I think I have made clear that my beef is as much with management who fail to come clean about the alternate situation and, in Heather Headley’s case, the onset of vocal problems, whether through strain, allergy, or infection. As to the demands of the role, well that’s a matter for her and management before she signs a contract. I don’t know whether that contract was for six performances a week – but the public sure as hell didn’t know if it was or wasn’t.

    I have had many emails from disappointed punters, some who’ve traveled from the States to see her. Many claim that they were advised that she would be playing only to find that she wasn’t; most claim that they diligently checked the website before booking. The fact is that Headley has missed MANY more performances than her accepted six a week – in one or two cases leaving the show at the interval. In such circumstances what is UNFAIR is to keep the paying public in the dark while you go on selling tickets on the strength of her reviews duly emblazoned outside the theatre (to say nothing of her Olivier nomination).

    This isn’t a first and it won’t be a last – and no one should think that I am singling Headley out for special treatment. Hers is just an extreme case. But by all accounts Gloria Onitiri should now be getting acknowledged on the hoardings outside the Adelphi. But then she didn’t get the rave reviews, did she?

  17. Russell says:

    i think edward needs some slack !!! jesus … he doesn’t need to justify his review all the time. it wasn’t a derogatory or individual review . Heather Headley has the ‘RAVE’ reviews .The management team should clearly state when she is not present and how many nights she actually is performing !!! and the fact she does no matinee shows which was only recent documented in a magazine interview . Fans pay money to see heather and Gloria isn’t getting any of the spotlight for continuing to take heather’s last minute drop outs. i’d be pretty peed off if i was her as she is a fine understudy . everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but even the head office wont comment on how many shows she’s is performing. they puled her in used her for al the promo pushed the ticket sales . and because it was too vocally demanding she pulls out when she wants ad sits on twitter posting how bad the UK weather is !!! people really should look in to the information i have kept a whole file on all her absence, post’s and tweet’s . i’d be glad to share it, then possibly you might see how unproffesional the whole situation is .

  18. Alun says:

    In a recent Evening Standard interview(tried to find the link but couldn’t) Heather Headley clearly states that she was never going to be doing all 8 performances and that to even attempt it would be “vocal suicide”; furthermore, she even generously gives an unprecedented mention to Ms Onitiri, something that Elaine Paige, Sarah Brightman and others who have had Alternates never did in the Press. If there is an issue here then maybe it is with the management, although in fairness to them there is a list of dates that HH is not due to appear at on the website. As for her leaving the performance half way through, well that is just bad luck and does happen sometimes in live theatre, and the performance stakes are invariably higher in a role like this which demands full throttle vocals throughout. And Russell, to say that “she pulls out whenever she wants to” is complete and utter rubbish. She is not some slacker, and guess what, a person can still Tweet when they’re on vocal rest! This is not a replication of the lamentable period when Martine McCutcheon was pulling out of My Fair Lady every performance and ended up being spotted in West End bars repeatedly, far from it. Also saying “I’d be pretty peed off if I was her” about Gloria Onitiri is again completely wrong. If you look at hers, male lead Lloyd Owen, or sundry other Bodyguard cast members’ Twitter feeds, you’ll see just what high affection and esteem Heather Headley is held in by her colleagues. If they thought she was work-shy and unprofessional there certainly wouldn’t be such warmth from the company.

  19. Stewart A says:

    Does Heather Headley expect to get paid – ofcourse she does! Who’s paying her wages – the audiences! So should the audience expect to see her perform – of course they should if she’s billed as the star of the show.

    I saw HH in The Bodyguard and she was excellent and deserved the plaudits that she got. If HH is ill then that can’t be helped but otherwise the management need to get their act together and sort out when she is and isn’t performing and if she isn’t vocally up to doing the show they need to address the problem. If HH had won the Oliver the producers would have been quick to advertise that outside of the theatre etc and cash in on her success so they should play fair.

    I am a big fan of Elaine Paige but I know she had a bit if a reputation for missing shows and she was off when I went to see her in Piaf and Sunset Blvd and I was disappointed. At Sunset no explanation was given other than ‘due to the indisposition of’ but at Piaf everyone either got a ticket to see the show again when she was on or a refund if they couldn’t go back. I can’t see that ever happening these days as producers would be shelling out a fortune in some cases.


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