How Whitney lost her dazzling voice because of her 'extra-curricular activities'
Inner torment: Whitney Houston's battle with her voice
Whitney Houston didn’t have a single note in her lower register when Stevie Wonder introduced her to voice coach Gary Catona seven years ago.
‘Her speaking and singing voice were completely hoarse,’ he told me, when we spoke this week about the singer’s untimely death. ‘At her best, she had a three-and-a-half octave range.’
At certain moments during their lessons, he recalled, his former pupil managed to reach incredible vocal heights — but she couldn’t sustain them.
‘She had demons in her,’ Catona told me sadly. ‘She was many people in one, and it was a question of which one would appear — and when.’
Whitney wouldn’t let anyone tell her what to do — but with her singing coach, she left her ego at the door.
I asked Catona what had damaged her voice. Was it physical Or psychological
‘Purely physical,’ he said, without a moment’s hesitation. ‘It was her extra-curricular activities. The vocal mechanism is made up of skin tissue and muscle. It doesn’t do well when it’s abused by smoke . . . and other substances.’
But I wondered, too, about the psychological harm done by the serial adultery of Whitney’s father, who often left his daughter and her mother to cope on their own, and the singer’s own conflicts with her sexuality.
Catona, who has worked with everyone from Freddie Garrity, of Freddie And The Dreamers, to Seal, said showbusiness was to blame, too.
‘Human beings were not designed to be viewed as perfect. When people tell you you’re not only beautiful but perfect, that wreaks havoc on a person’s life.’
Performer: Whitney Houston in 2009 who hid an inner torment
I went back and listened to Whitney’s first two albums again this week and I asked Catona why even the blandest, whitebread numbers somehow managed to be quite moving.
‘She was the veritable embodiment of an art form, like a Sinatra or an Ella Fitzgerald,’ he told me. ‘Her distinctive vocal quality was compassion, so that when she sang, the emotions she generated resonated joy.’
Given more time, he believes he could have rescued her voice.
We may get a taste of the Whitney effect when the musical version of her film The Bodyguard opens at the Adelphi Theatre in November. Producers Michael Harrison and David Ian have been working on the project for several years, so they’re not simply cashing in on the singer’s death.
Thea Sharrock will direct Heather Headley in the role of the rock star Rachel Marron (the part Whitney played). All the songs featured in the movie, including I Will Always Love You, will be there, and that score will be augmented by a dozen other numbers that Whitney made famous.
I have seen and heard Ms Headley and her voice was made in heaven, too.
Wanted: Brits good at the missionary position
The deal to bring the Broadway musical The Book Of Mormon to the West End has been signed, and now the focus shifts to the task of casting the London version.
The show will open at the Prince Of Wales Theatre in March next year.
A casting director will spend time looking over acting talent in the UK.
The intention is to cast the show here, although a chum who saw Mormon in New York last week joked that we might have a hard time finding actors with such pearly gnashers. ‘They’ll have to put something in the contracts about having teeth whitened,’ my friend quipped.
Mormon Preacher: Andrew Rannells stars in the musical Book of Mormon
If difficulties arise finding the right actors (with the right teeth) to play the two main Mormon preachers — roles that have made stage stars out of Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells — then perhaps the American leads will be imported.
That creates its own headaches, because the view of Mormon’s backers has always been that the show is the star, not the actors. But will audiences shell out big bucks to see a show without stars Whatever the answer, ticket pricing levels for The Book Of Mormon will be vital.
A lot of readers complain about paying 65 and above for theatre seats these days — and on top of that there’s the handling fee and that cheeky 1 for theatre restoration costs.
But, listen, it’s early days. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that the Mormons are finally coming (but please, God, not to the White House).
I’ve expressed doubts in the past over whether the show’s humour — the brainchild of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez — will work here.
But a lot of British friends, in and out of the theatre world, have rushed to reassure me that we will get it. I (and the producers) pray they’re right.
As I write this, I find I’m chuckling at the memory of some of the show’s more outrageous numbers.
Bring on those Latter-day Saints!
Silence is golden, Jessica
Jessica Chastain has been cast in the untitled thriller
The U.S. Navy Seals, the elite special forces unit which found and soundly dispatched Osama bin Laden, operated under the strictest secrecy.
Jessica Chastain, who has been cast in Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled thriller about the daring episode (I’d vote for President Obama just for having the guts to give the go-ahead to the mission) has to keep schtum about the details.
‘The script came directly to me, and I told my agents that it was fantastic and I had to do it. They weren’t allowed to read it,’ she told me at a Disney-hosted champagne reception at the Arts Club.
The actress, who also stars in The Help, The Tree Of Life, The Debt and Coriolanus told me she had just flown in from Jordan, where the film was still shooting with Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Nina Arianda and Edgar Ramirez.
So who do you play, I coaxed Big smile on her face and plenty of shaking of her head. Those Navy Ops guys would have been proud.
Something different: Berenice Bejo
I noticed something different about Berenice Bejo as we chatted at Harvey Weinstein’s after-after Bafta party. But what She took pity on me. ‘It’s now red,’ she said, pointing to her hair.
Berenice explained she’s making two films back to back. ‘Luckily, both require me to have red hair. The brunette Berenice will return another day.’
The films are Populaire and The Scapegoat, and both have full dialogue — unlike the much-honoured The Artist, in which she plays a dancer who sashays into silent films but becomes a big star when the talkies arrive.
The Artist won seven Baftas. Next week, Berenice, her director husband Michel Hazanavicius and other participants from the film have to hot foot it from the French Cesar awards to get to Los Angeles in time for the Oscars on February 26.
Berenice is up for best supporting actress against front-runner Octavia Spencer from The Help. I’m a huge fan of The Descendants with George Clooney, and Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but The Artist’s Jean Dujardin has won all the pre-Oscar prizes.
I think other studios have to start paying close attention to what Weinstein and his team have been doing. I can tell you it’s all about detail — and Harvey’s rivals don’t focus enough on the detail of getting voters to watch their movies!
Watch out for…
Charles Edwards, Jonathan Hyde and Emma Fielding, as George VI, Lionel Logue and Queen Elizabeth respectively, who will lead Adrian Noble’s production of David Seidler’s stage version of The King’s Speech into Wyndham’s Theatre from March 22.
Speechless: Jonathan Hyde, Charles Edwards and Emma Fielding
Seidler won an Oscar last year for the script he wrote for Tom Hooper’s film. (director Hooper won, too, as, of course, did Colin Firth!).
The play originated at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford and is now at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. It runs in Bath from Monday, then plays Brighton, Richmond and Newcastle, before transferring to Wyndham’s.
Samantha Womack, who played Nellie Forbush in director Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Centre production of the gloriously enchanting Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific at the Barbican last year.
Womack, and the show, may come back to London in the early autumn. There are rumours — although it’s still the earliest of days — that South Pacific could go to the London Palladium, taking over from The Wizard Of Oz, and running until the musical version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory arrives there in late spring.
If it does happen, perhaps the producers would consider bringing over the set that was used in New York to replace the humdrum touring set they’ve got on the road now.
Daniel Radcliffe, who is proving that he has box office muscle post-Potter. The actor, terrific in The Woman In Black, has seen the Hammer Horror film take off in the U.S. and here.
Over the weekend it took well over 3 million, and is tucking away just under 1 million a day.
Omid Djalili, who will play Dr Rance — the part originally created by Ralph Richardson — in Joe Orton’s brilliant farce What The Butler Saw. It will be directed by Sean Foley at the Vaudeville Theatre in May.