Q&A with West End Star Marisha Wallace
One of the West End and Broadway’s most instantly recognisable voices and beloved leading ladies is heading out on her first ever UK Tour.
Marisha Wallace – the sensational star of such smash-hit shows as Dreamgirls, Waitress, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon and very soon Hairspray – will play a series of unmissable theatre shows in March 2020.
She comes to Leeds City Varieties on March 16, and we sat down with Marisha to get the lowdown on what we can expect from the tour, why audience participation is crucial to her performance, what ‘that song’ “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” means to her and why she has her heart set on becoming the “Beyoncé of Broadway”.
“I love the people here, they are so warm”
How excited are you for your debut UK tour?
Like you cannot believe – it’s going to be incredible! To be going out around the country and singing in these different regions is going to be wonderful –the experience of a lifetime. This is my first time as a solo headliner so I can’t wait.
You’ve been in the UK for some time now – what do you love about this country?
I love the people here, they are so warm, and they are so dedicated, so supportive. those who come to my concerts seem to really get me and understand where I am coming from. I feel like I’m something of an underdog and I think they tap into that and are willing me to succeed which is really nice. I also just love being in London, I love the history and the fact that every minute I’m here I feel like I am on holiday!
What can audiences expect on the tour?
They can expect a lot of amazing songs, a lot of soul, a lot of big numbers from your favourite musicals that I’ve been in over the years and some of my own songs. This is a brand-new show which I feel has something for everyone. I will be performing songs by artists and songwriters that mean the world to me. I feel sure the audience will get up on their feet and dance. It’s going to be high energy and inspirational!
Who will be joining you on stage?
I have my four-piece band, who are all good friends of mine. We will also have some surprise guests, some choirs and singers from the towns and cities where we are going to be playing – so you’ll see some of your hometown friends on stage singing with me as well.
“I want to inspire people”
You are used to performing with a cast on stage, this time it is just you and your band. Do you prefer playing a character or being yourself on stage?
I feel most comfortable on stage as Marisha Wallace because I’m in control of everything! In musical theatre I can only play the one part and it’s already written for me. With my own shows I get to be the architect of the whole thing. It’s a very personal thing for me. I feel like a showman and it’s what I like to do – I will come out on the night like a firecracker!
So it’s a different experience for audience members who may have only seen you in the West End?
If you’ve only seen me in a show before you’ve never seen me like this. When I do my concerts, this is the full version of me. You will get to hear stories about my life and hopefully be inspired. That’s kind of my biggest thing when I do a show. I want to inspire people because if I can make it to where I am, then anyone can make it.
So you always wanted to be a singer?
I’ve been a singer my whole life, music was such an important part of my family growing up, and early on I decided I wanted to make a career out of it. I went to go to university, but I did not get in because they said there was something wrong with my voice. It was then found I had a cyst on my vocal chords and had to have surgery. I was told they did not know if I would be able to sing again after surgery but thankfully the surgery turned out well and I went back to the same school and they asked whether I would like to do musical theatre. I‘ve worked so hard to get here. I have been working at this for 15, 20 years just trying to make my dreams come true, going from nothing to making it.
On your website it states you “grew up in a small town in North Carolina, but the small town never held down her big city dreams”. Is it fair to say you are living your dream?
I am totally living my dream. When I was on Broadway I thought ‘this is it, I’ve made it’ but when the West End came calling I realised “wait there is an even bigger dream than I ever thought’. To be here getting to do all the things I love is amazing. Everything I ever wrote down or said I wanted to do is happening to me right here in the UK. The exciting thing is you feel that your journey can lead you to the right place and I certainly feel I’m at the right place at the right time.
“The Beyoncé of Broadway!”
It can be a hard life though?
Yes, it’s hard for a musical theatre performer. By your very nature you have to be multi-faceted, be able to sing, dance, act, and must have the stamina of a crazy person because you do eight shows a week. But at the same time it’s also a wonderful life. To be able to do all these things, live all these roles alongside performers who become true friends is so special. Every time I go out I want to prove myself as a performer – I basically want to be the Beyoncé of Broadway! She does everything; she sings, dances, acts, she likes to use all her gifts and I love her for that!
Who were your musical heroes growing up?
Definitely all of the soul women: Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Jennifer Holiday. I do a lot of these artists in my show, and of course Whitney Houston. My God, Whitney’s voice. The way those tones affect people is just truly amazing.
How many of their songs will feature in your tour?
Lots of them. It is brilliant to be able to take a song by Whitney, Janis Joplin, Etta James and fit them alongside songs from musical theatre and my own material. I’m blessed I can sing a number of different styles and while at one point I thought I needed to focus on just one sound or genre I then thought ‘who cares… I’ll sing it all!’
How important to your performance is the audience?
They are everything to me. The audience truly help make the show. On this tour it is just me, my band and the audience – they are my other actors in this play. Audiences want to be part of a concert and with me they get the chance to sing along, stand up, dance, scream, cheer, let out your emotions because that’s what a concert should be. You don’t just sit and watch – I want you to participate!
“My dream role hasn’t been written yet”
After your tour you begin the role of Motormouth Maybelle in a star-studded revival of Hairspray. You must be tremendously excited.
I can’t believe it because I kind of thought that role would not come my way for another 10, 15 years. Michael (Ball) and I both performed last summer at Lytham Festival in Lancashire and we did ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ there. We got talking, I got the audition and I got the part. I’m so excited.
What would be the dream role for you?
My dream role has not been written yet. I want to do an original piece where I get to create the role from scratch using all my talents. It would be cool to do something brand new, that no-one has done before. I feel in my career I have had to top all the best who’ve gone before me. Behind me I had Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Holliday, Amber Riley and I had to aim to be a better version than all those who went before. I would be so excited to be the foundation version so the next person to come to the role would be challenged to top Marisha!
Do you have a message ahead of the opening night of your tour?
Get your tickets now, it’s going to be wonderful, emotional and a hell of a night out!