One of the most instantly recognisable voices and beloved leading ladies of the West End and Broadway is heading out on her first ever UK Tour. Marisha Wallace, the star of smash-hit shows Aladdin, The Book of Mormon, Dreamgirls, and Waitress, plays eight dates across the UK in March including Manchester and Leeds.
“I’m so excited to finally take my concert out to the nation for everyone to see it,” Marisha told me. “I’ve been doing some mini-touring around the UK for the past couple of months and I’m so excited to finally do my headline solo tour, it’s going to be really incredible.
“The show is going to have a lot of soul music and a lot of musical theatre. I’m doing I Am Telling You from Dreamgirls, that’s what everyone knows me for, This Is Me from Greatest Showman but I’m also doing tributes to Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Janis Joplin, so there will be something for everyone. I think people are going to love it.”
Some big voices, there, for Marisha to emulate. “Yeah… that’s pretty ambitious!” she laughs. Marisha’s enthusiasm is infectious, even at the end of a telephone line, and having seen her performance in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre in London, she certainly knows how to deliver. She effortlessly infuses jazz, gospel and R&B with a healthy dose of soul but there was a time when the young Marisha feared she may never sing again.
“When I was a kid I just wanted to be a singer. I loved soul music, that was what was going on in our house, but I didn’t really know that I could make a career out of musical theatre or even as a singer. I was going to be a teacher.
“I fell into musical theatre after I had vocal surgery. Something happened to my voice and I was told I may never be able to sing again but everything went well. After I had a year to recover, they suggested musical theatre. From there I fell in love with it. I trained for four years and, after college, it was like a roller-coaster ride, I got my first Broadway show and the rest is history.”
On Broadway, Marisha starred in shows including Disney’s Aladdin, The Book of Mormon and Something Rotten!
“I came here in 2016. I had been working on Broadway and then they asked me to come and play Effie, the lead in Dreamgirls in the West End because someone was sick.
I had four days to pack my stuff, five days to rehearse and then I was leading the show. I was supposed to be here for a month and that turned into three years! Now I’ve done two West End shows, including Waitress, and I’m about to do Hairspray.
“I fell in love with the UK from the moment I first I stepped on stage here. The warmth and love I’ve received from audiences has been really special. When I came over here no-one knew who I was and they really have embraced me. They’ve bought every album, every song, and I got to do a movie, Aladdin, with Will Smith.
“I got to sing the iconic line ‘Ooh, I think he’s rather tasty,’” says Marisha, barely able to contain her excitement at the thought. She laughs out and then sings me the line. “I used to listen to that movie, just about every day when I was a kid, and then I got to be in a Disney movie! Of all the Disney characters, that really was a highlight. Everything I ever wanted to happen in my life is really taking off over here!”
At the end of March Marisha is also set to star in Hairspray as it returns to the West End at the London Coliseum. Michael Ball is also set to return, reviving the role of Edna Turnblad, the character he played in the original West End run from 2007 to 2010.
“I’m playing Motormouth Maybelle, the roll played by Queen Latifah in the movie. We had a photoshoot this past week and I got to put on the clothes and the big blond wig and… it was like, ‘Oh my God,,, it’s real now!’ People are getting really excited about it, especially as it hasn’t been here for a long time, so it’s going to be nice to get to a London audience again.”
“Rehearsals are just starting although I’m currently back in Waitress. I left Waitress and went on tour but they asked me to come back. Sarah Bareilles is now back, leading the show, and she asked me to play Becky again with her, and so it’s been insane because I get to sing the songs with the person who wrote them! That’s really cool.”
Marisha was invited on a tour supporting American singer-songwriter Todrick Hall, who is currently a judge on the TV show The Greatest Dancer alongside Cheryl Cole. The tour included dates in Manchester and London and gave Marisha a taste for performing as a solo artist.
“This tour will have more, the full experience!” she adds. “I really enjoy musical theatre, playing roles, because I get to create a character that people can relate to. But when I do my tour, I get to give you me! I get to create the whole thing, the set list, I pick the costumes, choose the musicians and the ambience of the whole space. It’s exciting to do all those things and to give you the full experience of what I want the audience to feel. Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Etta James, Chaka Khan, they were such a big influence (in my youth). They weren’t just singers, they were storytellers and that is what I love to do, to make people feel something when they hear me sing.”
She also has a single available, Fight Like A Woman. “It’s a single that I wrote and released while I was on tour with Todrick. It’s a time when I feel people need to be empowered. Women are so strong and we go through so much that to have the strength and fight of a woman, maybe we could change the world. It’s not just about women but having the tenacity of a woman, I think everyone should have a bit of that.”