Interview | Marisha Wallace

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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 beginning at Sale’s Waterside.

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.

Beginning at Sale’s Waterside (March 8), Marisha will then play Newbury Corn Exchange (March 11), Horsham Capitol (March 13), Birmingham Hippodrome (March 14), Leeds City Varieties (March 16), Lichfield Garrick (March 17), Glasgow Glee Club (March 18) and the Arts Theatre in London’s West End (March 23).

Ahead of the tour 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”.

Opening Night: HOW EXCITED ARE YOU FOR YOUR DEBUT UK TOUR?

Marisha: 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.

ON: YOU’VE BEEN IN THE UK FOR SOME TIME NOW – WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THIS COUNTRY?

Marisha: 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!

ON:  SINCE COMING TO THE UK HAVE YOU HAD MUCH CHANCE TO VISIT DIFFERENT PLACES OUTSIDE OF LONDON?

Marisha: I really love Manchester, the food is incredible, it’s almost like a different kind of London, reminds me of Boston a little bit and it’s an incredible place.

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ON: WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT ON THE TOUR?

Marisha: 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!

ON: WHO WILL BE JOINING YOU ON STAGE?

Marisha: 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.

ON: 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?

Marisha: 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!

ON: SO IT’S A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE FOR AUDIENCE MEMBERS WHO MAY HAVE ONLY SEEN YOU IN THE WEST END?

Marisha: 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.

ON: SO YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A SINGER?

Marisha: 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: 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?

Marisha: 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.

ON: IT CAN BE A HARD LIFE THOUGH?

Marisha: 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!

ON: WHO WERE YOUR MUSICAL HEROES GROWING UP?

Marisha: 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.

ON: HOW MANY OF THEIR SONGS WILL FEATURE IN YOUR TOUR?

Marisha: 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!’

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ON: HOW IMPORTANT TO YOUR PERFORMANCE IS THE AUDIENCE?

Marisha: 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!

ON: “AND I AM TELLING YOU…” FROM DREAMGIRLS HAS BECOME SUCH AN ICONIC SONG THAT AUDIENCES NOW INSTANTLY RELATE IT TO YOU. WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SING THAT SONG?

Marisha: The song is so special to me – I’ve never sung any song like it, it’s one of a kind.
Singing that line ‘And you’re going to love me’ and then getting that love back from the audience is something that you cannot describe. It means so much. It’s an incredibly powerful and personal song for so many people who have all been on their own journey in life.

You know when things have not gone well, they’ve been beaten down, but then they come out from the ashes and say ‘you know what, I am going to make it’ and ‘you are going to love me in the end’. That is why that song is so important, it has such a powerful message, one of never giving up. I think everyone, at some stage in their life, can relate to it.

Every time I sing it I think I’m not going to go there, you know all the way there, but every time I sing it I go there because it swoops you up into this world of emotion.
Also, all the things I have been through and my journey to get here to the stage just envelopes me when I sing that song. I always cry at the end.

ON: HOW HAS THE RETURN TO WAITRESS BEEN FOR YOU?

Marisha: It’s been so exciting because I’ve never gone back to a show that I’ve left before. Everyone has been so wonderful. This company is the most beautiful company and just a really big family.

ON: AFTER YOUR TOUR YOU BEGIN THE ROLE OF MOTORMOUTH MAYBELLE IN A STAR-STUDDED REVIVAL OF HAIRSPRAY. YOU MUST BE TREMENDOUSLY EXCITED.

Marisha: 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’ We got talking, I got the audition and I got the part. I’m so excited.

ON: WHAT WOULD BE THE DREAM ROLE FOR YOU?

Marisha: 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!

ON: DO YOU HAVE A MESSAGE AHEAD OF THE OPENING NIGHT OF YOUR TOUR?

Marisha: Get your tickets now, it’s going to be wonderful, emotional and a hell of a night out!

Tickets for Marisha Wallace’s show at Sale’s Waterside can be found here.

The Book of Mormon

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The cast of Book Of Mormon Manchester – Credit Paul Coltas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever since those first whispers  of “The Mormons are coming” way back in November, excitement levels have been sky high for the multi-award winning, (Tony’s, Olivier’s and Grammy’s to name but a few) smash-hit Broadway musical’s Manchester arrival.

Penned by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez co-creator of Avenue Q as well co-writer for songs from Disney’s Frozen and Coco you quickly get the idea that this is going to be one seriously creative and wildly outrageous piece of theatre…and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

From the minute the bright-eyed, Colgate smiling, super-positive Mormons take to the stage with witty opening number Hello! you know you’re in for quite the ride, so buckle up, embrace the outlandish and leave the easily-offended at home.

M-Jae – Cleopatra, Issac – Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson in The Book Of Mormom, Manchester, Palace Theatre Credit Paul Coltas

The story introduces us to Elders Price (Kevin Clay) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) a mismatched pair thrust together on their Mormon mission to convert the natives of a country far flung from Salt Lake City (no spoilers here), despite knowing nothing about the country nor the traditions or beliefs of the locals who live there. While Elder Price feels his mission is to “Blow God’s freakin’ mind” Elder Cunningham lies…a lot; what could possible go wrong?

From the off The Book Of Mormon pokes wicked and downright profane fun at every stereotype imaginable; nothing is off-limits in this all-out comedy assault and the audience lap up every close to the bone second of it.

The bouncy, infectious score with lyrics to make your toes curl is as outrageous as it is brilliant. There’s a genius borrowing from several other musicals: hilarious hints of The Sound of Music’s ‘I Have Confidence’ can be heard during ‘I Believe’ while ‘Joseph Smith American Moses” is a riotous, profanity laden homage to ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ from The King and I; as for the jaw-droppingly offensive yet hysterically funny Hasa Diga Eebowai, The Lion King’s Mufasa would be turning in his buffalo trodden grave.

Nicole-Lily Baisden and Conner Peirson Book of Mormon, Manchester, Credit Paul Coltas

This ‘borrowing’ sends up other musicals so brilliantly yet feels incredibly original; at one point during ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me) you are almost prepared for Elder Price to rise up Elphaba style a la Wicked.

Kevin Clay is outstanding as Elder Price, full of ego and bursting with confidence his self belief seemingly unshakable. Conner Peirson makes for a perfect sidekick as Elder Cunningham so desperate is he to please that his wild exaggerations and implausible bending of the truth brings its own type of bedlam to proceedings. The two together are an absolute joy, their love/hate relationship being the backbone of the story and they deliver it with heart-warming conviction, ultimately teaching both characters a generous life lesson.

Nicole-Lily Baisden shines as Nabulungi, sweet yet sassy she brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role making her duet with Peirson during ‘Baptize Me’ all the more entertaining.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Special mention must also go to Will Hawksworth and his outstanding troop of Mormons, every scene they feature in is perfection with Turn It Off and I Am Africa being two of the standout moments of the night, camp, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny.

There is not one weak link in this entire company, with many cast members taking on several parts and delivering each to the highest of standards with the vocal arrangements and choreography taking this production to the next level.

While the show happily tears through taboos with all the subtlety of Satan at a baptism its ultimate message is one of faith. Yes it’s outlandish, yes it’s irreverent but the core message is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe in just as long as you believe in something, be that yourself, your community or each other. While it pokes fun at organised religion it makes clear the message that faith is no bad thing once you see past the bonkers constraints that surround it.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Rarely do you see a whole theatre leap to their feet but judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation The Book of Mormon is without doubt the hottest ticket in town. Riotous fun from start to finish, believe the hype this is without doubt a little piece of heaven on earth.

Outrageous and original this sensational production will leave you desperate to convert to that marvellous Mormon tribe!

The Book Of Mormon is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th August, tickets available here.

📷 Paul Coltas