Wednesday, 7 February 2018

INTERVIEW: Karen Mav, Marisha Wallace and Moya Angela, all starring as Effie White in the West End production of Dreamgirls

Tell us a bit about your Effie and how you think it differs from the other ladies playing the role. 

Marisha: I love that I get to put my own spin on it. My Effie has a lot of humour but she also has a lot of heart. I try to show a lot of truth in what I get across with the character, I really want audiences to feel like Effie could be their best friend, she’s a real person, 3D. I bring humanity to Effie.

Moya: I always tap into something real, something I’ve been through. At the end of ‘And I am Telling You I’m Not Going’, at the end of the first act, I cry. Every time, it never fails. I always cry.

Karen: I’m the baby Effie, just entering showbiz. A lot of it is what I’m going through right now. As the youngest, feels a lot of resonance to the character in the younger period of her life so I have a different perspective on it. She starts off as a young girl with big dreams.

This role is incredible demanding, how do you prepare for the show and make sure you can sustain it? 

Marisha: It is a very demanding role, I think it’s the biggest sing in musical theatre! With any muscle you have to train it and make sure you look after it - we’re vocal athletes. I prepare, I work out, I have a vocal coach. Much like opera singers we share the role across the week so each audience gets everything we got! 

Moya: That’s right, we’re ‘Team Effie’. The West End is excited to receive some really big voices. 

Karen: After a year of being in the show I’ve learnt to have a structure – I want the audience to feel like they’ve got the best performance so I make sure I rest my voice and steam every day.

Moya, You joined the cast not too long ago in November, what was the audition process like? And how did you react when you got the role and found out you were making the move to London? 

When I heard about the production opening in London I told my agents there’s no way you’re not getting me in that audition room. I was really anxious – I’d been Effie before but I wanted it with everything I had. I walked into that room and I saw Casey Nicholaw, the director, I just put on the biggest smile and went in there and just rocked it out! I loved doing it. 

It was magnificent when I knew I was going to move to the West End and that was such a big adventure for me. I live in Covent Garden and I can’t ask for anything more. 

Marisha, You were flown over in December 2016 and made your debut performance in the same month, what was the process for that? How did you find out you were coming over and tell us a bit about what it was like going on for the first time.

I had worked with the director Casey Nicholaw for over five years; we’ve done 4 or 5 productions together. I found out he was doing Dreamgirls here in London and I came straight over. He already knew I could play the role because I did it before in the States. And I worked with Henry Krieger before, he wrote the music, so he knew I could sing it. I also worked with Gregg Barnes on Aladdin on Broadway, and when I heard Swarovski were involved I thought ‘Dream Team’– I was so excited. I was thrilled to make my London debut as Effie.

You’ve been in London for over a year now and have certainly left a
huge impact on the West End already, not only playing Effie White but with your album launch and your concerts. What’s been some of your highlights from the past year? 

You mean besides being Effie White in Dreamgirls?! I got to play the Royal Albert Hall just after I moved here and I sang ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from the show with a 70-piece orchestra and the response from the audience was so overwhelming.

Karen, You’re making your West End debut in this role and you’re now going into your second year, tell us a bit about the audition process and how you feel about continuing on in this role?

Sonia Friedman the producer actually got in touch after watching me on The X Factor and asked me to audition for Dreamgirls, she’s just been so supportive all the way through. I trained in Music at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts so kind of knew what to expect from the audition but I was so, so nervous. The director Casey [Nicholaw] put me at ease though and I just got to sing my heart out. 

I never underestimate how much of a job this is. The vocal athletics and the emotion drawn from telling Effie’s story, but I always feel elated at the interval when the audience is so giving, crying, standing and clapping and there with me. I get to work and live in the music every time I go onstage.

You wear some incredibly glamorous costumes but which one is your favourite? 

Karen: ‘One Night Only’ – that’s when Effie really comes into herself. She starts to bloom after going through all these personal struggles. I unveil the ‘One Night Only’ dress, which drapes around me, it’s very freeing. 

Moya: The costume I wear in the song ‘I Want You, Baby’ is my favourite costume in the whole show - it shows the era, the shape of it - I feel very glamorous just tipping out with the little gloves on. Gregg Barnes is the Costume Designer for Dreamgirls and he’s brilliant.

Marisha: For me it’s the ‘Dreamgirls’ costume. We wear these fabulous long feather boas that are connected to our dresses. Every time you move the boas move with you, and you feel so fabulous. People will love the costumes when they come to see it.

What’s your favourite song in the show?

Marisha: ‘I Am Changing’ – you get to see and hear all the different parts of Effie’s voice, from the loudest belts to the soft, sweet side. Whether it’s Moya, Karen or me the voice is powerful, you get to hear such a variety. We tell a complete story from beginning, middle to end, all in one song. The lyrics are so well written, it’s a stunning moment in the show.

Karen: ‘Listen’ and ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’. It’s a tie. ‘And I Am Telling You…’ is such a strong vocal song but no matter how many times I hear it, no matter who sings it, it’s still so moving. And ‘Listen’ because it’s a beautiful coming together of Deena and Effie.

Moya: A favourite, that’s so hard. We’re singing some of these incredible tracks

like ‘Move’, ‘Listen’, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘One Night Only’ and I sometimes forget that Henry Krieger wrote all the songs for this musical and that it wasn’t released on a ’45 and people weren’t really there listening to it in the 60s! 

If you had to play any other role in the show, regardless of gender or age, what would it be?

Moya: James ‘Thunder’ Early. Abso-lute-ly! He’s a class clown, that’s who I am in life. And he’s a character that’s been pulled together from the real solo artists of that great Soul era, like Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Ray Charles.

Marisha: I would play Jimmy Early. I’m a song and dance person. You get to sing, do comedy; you get all the punch lines. I’ve played male roles before and it’s really fun.

Karen: Jimmy Early! I love his songs, his voice.

Could you tell us an embarrassing on stage story?

Moya: My most embarrassing moment was at the Apollo Theatre in NYC, we were doing Dreamgirls and I was playing Effie White. There was a full audience and I was singing the big number, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’… And my trousers fell down. While I was singing the song. But I’m not gonna stop singing! So I just kicked them off. People thought it was part of the show and I just kept going. Luckily I was wearing a long shirt…the show must go on! 

Marisha: In the scene when Effie first meets Curtis all of us Dreamettes in the girl group are wearing this wig. There’s a gag where they swivel around so we can’t put any pins in to keep them in place. Effie is trying to act cool in front of Curtis so I spin around to walk away from him and my wig falls right off on to the floor. I’m in the moment so I just pick it up and shake it in his face! 

Why should people come and see Dreamgirls?

Karen: It’s the most glamorous show in the West End! There’s nowhere else you get to hear better music, spine-tingling performances of recognisable tracks like ‘One Night Only’, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘Listen’ on top of a story with a lot heart and soul! 

Marisha: And it has three women leading, which you rarely get to see in all of musical theatre history. Three, strong, powerful women in the lead. Black women, who don’t get many of these roles. 

We’ve just celebrated 5 years of our website in January, so to celebrate this we’re asking people what theatre means to you?

Moya: You get up onstage in front of people and you can’t fast forward it or delete it. It is what it is. It’s raw, it’s in the moment. These days we’re very over stimulated. It’s a way for people to put things away and focus in on human behaviour and great music and a story and I think that is really important nowadays. 

Karen: Musical theatre is really important to me. I’ve learnt this through my
friends, who had never been to the theatre before they came to see me in Dreamgirls. Their faces brightened up by the end of the show and they wanted to go straight back in to watch it again. The music is so powerful that you can only experience it live. 

Marisha: Theatre is real. We live in a time where there are so many screens in our lives that put up a barrier between you and another person. When people come to the theatre they feel something and when they come and see Dreamgirls they say “I got goosebumps and I’m crying and I’m laughing”. They’re having all these emotions that you can’t get when you watch Netflix.
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