Getting back on stage, doing what I was born to do, was just amazing
TELLS MARION McMULLEN WHY SHE HAS AS THEATRES BEGIN TO REOPEN
How tough was it finding out you had Covid at the start of the pandemic?
I was doing the show Waitress before lockdown and getting on with my own tour and then everyone started going on our group chat saying ‘Are you sick?’
Sara Bareilles from Waitress had gone back to America and tested positive. I was feeling sick at the time and then found I had Covid as well.
It was so scary and I was alone and living by myself. I had no idea what it was going to do to me.
You recorded a haunting version of Tomorrow from Annie during that time. How did it come about?
I was recovering from the virus and I wanted to help other artists who were out of work.
It’s hard if you are out of work for a week, let alone 15 months. Help can mean the difference between paying your bills and going bankrupt.
I worked with two charities to give some cash help and I bought a £100 microphone and recorded the single in my house.
I sent it to Michael Ball and he played it on his radio show and everything went crazy. It went to number two in the iTunes chart and they played it at the US Open last year.
Now a whole album has come out of it.
Has it also been emotional returning to the West End stage with Hairspray?
Our first time on stage was filming for (BBC’s) The One Show and just getting back on stage, doing what I was born to do, was amazing.
I’d not done it for 15 months and it was a bit weird, but so exiting.
We just want to bring some joy to people.
That’s what we need right now and, hopefully, we’ll be playing to packed theatres again soon.
And, when Hairspray finishes, I will be going on tour with the album. I can’t wait to see all these different parts of Britain.
Where did your passion for music start?
I’ve been singing since I was five years old. My mom, grandma, dad – the whole family was musical.
There would be someone playing the guitar, someone playing the piano, someone on the drums.
We were like the Jackson Five.
My mom pushed me to sing and I actually started when I was five or six years old singing at funerals.
I wouldn’t even know the people I was singing for, but it taught me not to be afraid of singing in front of an audience.
I grew up on a pig farm in North Carolina. I was a country bumpkin and had never gone to see a Broadway show, but I had a high school teacher who taught me about Broadway and took me to see my first show and helped me go to university to study.
It only takes one person to believe in you and then the whole world opens up to you.
What was your big break?
The Book Of Mormon was my first big show on Broadway and then we took it out across America on tour for the first time.
It was an amazing experience and I worked with the people from South Park. I didn’t even have an agent at the time and I got the part after attending an open audition.
The first time I came to Britain was for Dreamgirls to cover for Amber Riley who was ill. It was supposed to be for three weeks, then it was six months and then I took over the role.
I had never been to London before in my life and they put me in this really nice apartment in Pall Mall. I looked down the street and there was Buckingham Palace.
(Laughs) I was living next door to the Queen.
What was it like working on the TV series Feel Good with Mae Martin and Lisa Kudrow?
I had not really done much television or film and I did an audition tape during the pandemic for Feel Good but thought I’m not even going to send it in. But, in the middle of the night, after a few drinks, I sent it and the next day they got in touch and said they wanted me to meet the director.
(Laughs) The first read through of the script was on Zoom and I just kept thinking ‘I can see into Lisa Kudrow’s house’.
You’ve also been a nanny to the stars. How did that come about?
When I got The Book Of Mormon it was nine months before the job started. I was living in New York and I thought ‘What am I going to do to make some money?’
So I signed on with an agency called Artist Babysitting. I made great money and I ended up looking after different celebrities’ kids on and off. I used to nanny for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s kids.
I hadn’t met him, I had been dealing with his wife, but he came up in the elevator as I was leaving... and he gave me a $50 tip.
Marisha Wallace can be seen playing Motormouth Maybelle in the West End production of Hairspray alongside Michael Ball (londoncoliseum.org) before she goes on tour at the end of August. Feel Good is available on Netflix. Go to marishawallace.com for details
AND WEST END STAR MARISHA WALLACE
PLENTY TO SING ABOUT