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Alexandra Burke on Being the Youngest, ‘Danciest’ & Last Rachel Marron in London's The Bodyguard

Alexandra Burke on Being the Youngest, ‘Danciest’ & Last Rachel Marron in London's The Bodyguard
Alexandra Burke in 'The Bodyguard'
'I like to think that I’m upping my game with each performance. I’m thinking of this whole thing as a journey.'

After nearly two years in the West End, the musical adaptation of the Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard will play its final performance August 29 at the Adelphi Theatre. Thea Sharrock’s production in recent months has welcomed a new leading lady in British singer-songwriter and X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, who will celebrate her 26th birthday during the show’s last week. Broadway.com caught up with the West End musical neophyte to talk the legacy of Whitney, diva-dom, and being the “danciest” Rachel Marron yet.

You’re following in some impressive footsteps—first Heather Headley, then Beverley Knight. What has that been like?
I fall in love with the show all over again every single night. In fact, I’d seen it twice with Heather and then when I decided to take on the role, I had to shadow Beverley, so now I feel it’s up to me to put my own interpretation on Rachel Marron, since all our interpretations are different.

How would you characterize yours?
I’m the youngest of the three [stars] who has played the part so far, and I’m also the only one doing a lot of dancing. So I guess you could say my Rachel is a little bit more fiery—a little cheekier and also “dancier,” if you know what I mean.

That makes sense. So where do you think you fall on the diva spectrum?
From what I’m hearing from others, mine is a little more diva-ish; I’m tapping into my inner diva, absolutely [laughs].

I heard you were offered this role previously and declined it.
They came to me with it and I thought it wasn’t the right time and, to be honest, nerves got in the way as well. But when it came back to me, I thought, OK, this is [the work of] God because I’m a true believer and I do believe that things happen at the right time.

The second time, then, was a no-brainer?
My manager said, “I don’t think you’re going to do this role,” and I said, “Excuse me!?” [Laughs.] He then told me after I had accepted the part that he knew what buttons to push and he knew that by saying that, he would spur me on—and he’s hearing everything I’m saying to you now, so it’s the truth!

How are you adjusting to the American accent?
What’s been great is that people are saying to me, “Wow, your American accent is pretty convincing, and the acting’s not bad—and getting better all the time.” I’ve been studying acting in recent years, so I like to think that I’m upping my game with each performance. I’m thinking of this whole thing as a journey.

Do you remember when The Bodyguard movie came out?
I was four! [Laughs.]

But I assume the world described on screen and in the show doesn’t feel altogether alien to you.
It doesn’t, even though I’m not American and am not part of Hollywood. But I grew up in the world of the show, so to speak, because of my mother [soul singer Melissa Bell], who had done back-up vocals not only for Whitney [Houston] but also for Lisa Stansfield and George Michael. I use that experience to my advantage to be quite disciplined because I know what it takes to give 150% every night.

I gather you’ve done your own Whitney Houston tribute concert.
Yes, that was for the Young Voices charity, and they asked me to come sing some of the Whitney songbook, which was just amazing. Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Whitney—those are some of the women whose music gets me the most, with Whitney without a doubt my first love. So when it comes to singing her music every night, I still have to pinch myself.

What about the specifics of the musical’s plot—bodyguards, stalkers, and all that?
I’ve never had to worry about the stuff that Rachel has to, thank goodness; I’ve never had that kind of issue. But I did have to move home a few years ago when people started writing me some pretty strange letters. That seems to have fallen away since then, thank God—I’m currently touching anything that resembles wood [laughs].

This is you first proper run, but you did step into the company of Les Miserables for one performance two years ago.
I did, as part of [UK charity] Children In Need to play Eponine. That was my first time ever doing that kind of thing, and I was so nervous! I enjoyed it and would love to play Eponine again if that opportunity ever came my way; Les Miz is such an iconic West End play.

Are there any other West End other musicals you might like to be a part of?
I’m not sure: who knows? I feel in a way as if I’m leaving it all to God and timing. At the moment, I want to put more music out there but when it comes to doing theater again, well, watch this space.

And of course there’s talk of The Bodyguard coming to Broadway.
That would be a dream of mine. And by God’s grace, we will serve that dream.

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