Five questions with Marisha Wallace of 'Guys & Dolls'

Marisha Wallace, who stars as Adelaide in Guys & Dolls, talks to London Theatre about reinventing the role and how it feels to show a woman's rage on stage.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

West End star Marisha Wallace will take her final bow in Nicholas Hytner’s groundbreaking revival of Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre on 26 February. The performer has spent nearly 20 years on Broadway and in the West End, starring in shows from The Book of Mormon and Dreamgirls, to Hairspray, but her turn as Adelaide in Guys & Dolls may be the best yet.

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What has it been like working with director Nicholas Hytner on this production of Guys & Dolls?

This is my first time working with Nick Hytner, and I can’t believe that because I initially turned down the role, which is crazy! Because I was like, I can’t do a year. At that time, I had only been doing three-month stints because I had been doing theatre for so long. And then he took me out to lunch and he said, “I’ve never begged anyone to do a show before and I want you to do the show.”

This production really flips the traditional story around. What has it been like creating this new version of the show?

Well, we knew going into Guys & Dolls, there was a gender politics issue. Like, oh the dolls are just usually ditzy or dumb or there as props. But in this version, the women know what’s going on. Most dumb blondes are actually really smart, so I wanted to make sure that Adelaide’s voice was heard. I felt like [her voice] gets kind of lost in the nasally and her cold [in “Adelaide’s Lament”], but actually what she has to say is really important.

What you’ve done with her voice is really impressive, because you have big belting numbers but also quiet, more intimate moments. Can you talk about the vocals?

There are so many different sides to Adelaide. There’s the performer Adelaide and then there’s the behind-the-scenes Adelaide. This is so true of any performer – they have two different personas. The behind-the-scenes Adelaide is a little bit quieter, a bit more insecure, a bit more not really sure if [her fiancé Nathan] is gonna do what she wants to do. You want that love from the audience, but then you want it from the person that you love. So I thought it was cool to change that voice up to make it really conversational.

What do you love about playing Adelaide?

It’s really empowering. Adelaide is sexy, vulnerable, strong, and weak. There’s always that idea of the strong Black woman, and I just wanted to make sure there were all these layers. There are so many layers to women that have to be explored. When do you ever see a woman being angry on stage? I thought it was cool to add that to “Sue Me”, because when do you get to see women’s rage?

What do you love about doing this show?

I really have been having the best time. I wake up every day, and I’m like, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Because I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now, and this has definitely been a highlight of my career.

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This article first appeared in the February 2024 issue of London Theatre Magazine.

Photo credit: Wallace in Guys & Dolls. (Photo courtesy of production)

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