A GoPride Interview

Rachel Wallace

Rachel Wallace interview with ChicagoPride.com

Wed. October 26, 2011  by Windy City Times

Rachel Wallace

Rachel Wallace talks about being 'Mary Poppins'

Mary Poppins flies into the Cadillac Palace Theatre this month. The show recreates much of the Disney cartoon and adds layers and songs for the characters. Windy City Times took a moment to look under the umbrella at the newest Mary on the block—Rachel Wallace!

WCT: (Windy City Times) Did you study theatre in school?

RW: (Rachel Wallace) I did. I went to the North Carolina University School of the Arts in Salem, N.C., and got an acting degree.

WCT: So how did the musical thing happen for you?

RW: Well, I sang all through high school and definitely through college. Of my top schools North Carolina was my first choice. I figured I would rather have a strong acting background to supplement the dance and local training. I was very happy with it.

WCT: Do you ultimately want to be on a television, movies or theatre?

RW: I think Broadway is what excited me most. Acting in any medium is something that interests me. This right now is a huge dream come true.

WCT: It must be that you get to fly. Not everybody gets to fly on Broadway!

RW: [Both laugh.] Yeah, I know. It is an incredibly thrilling part of the job.

WCT: Were you scared the first time you went up?

RW: Oh no, are you kidding? One of the girls videotaped it. I was hooting and hollering. It was just a practice run. I was yelling, "This is so much fun!"

WCT: So you have no fear of heights?

RW: I assumed that I would but I trust the people that I work with so completely that I was able to relax. I just thought, "What an incredibly cool perspective to have in the theatre." The theatre is built for people to walk around in not usually fly around in so when you look at the ceiling and the stage from a new perspective it is really exciting.

WCT: It must be great to watch people's mouths drop.

RW: It is and one of the best parts of the show to see all of their faces. Everyone is equally thrilled.

WCT: Were you in the show before?

RW: I was a member of the ensemble. I was in the show every night and then understudying the role. The girl that had been doing it before me, Steffanie Leigh, is actually opening tonight on Broadway in Mary Poppins, which is incredibly cool, she left us now and I am in her shoes.

WCT: Her turned-out shoes…

RW: [Laughs] Yes, her first-position shoes, exactly.

WCT: There are some big dance sequences. Were they hard to learn?

RW: Because it is such an incredibly intricate role it is not the dance so much but the blocking, and dealing with props. It is Disney magic so there is quite a bit of practice to master. That was the part that got most of my attention during the learning process.

WCT: It is a massive set.

RW: It is an incredible set! It is big, gorgeous and overwhelming. It took me a while to feel really at home on it. Now I do finally.

WCT: Do you get to have your own take on the role or are you tempted to do Julie Andrews?

RW: I am not sure how much I would aware of that. I experience the character from the script, reading the P.L. Travers books and also the film that I grew up watching. I have also seen a number of women play the part in the musical. Whether you intend to or not you wind up borrowing bits and pieces from different adaptations. You just bring yourself into the story that is how you end up with the character.

WCT: It must be amazing to play that part.

RW: It is incredible. She is one of those people that you can play in as many performances, as I will and other people have, and still continue to learn from this character. It is a gift.

WCT: You are going to be here for Halloween.

RW: Yes, we are! I have never even been to Chicago so I have no idea what to expect. I have been told it is an incredible town especially for going out and about. I heard there are great restaurants and with Halloween, oh my!

WCT: I was wondering if you will be sick of dressing up or you will find a costume?

RW: I have no idea. It has been so long since I have dressed up for Halloween for that very reason. I am always doing a show. If I have the night off and I have the extra energy I will dress up. If not, I will enjoy being in my sweats.

WCT: Do you do tongue twisters before the song "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?"

RW: I remember when I was learning it, especially since we spell it out and the choreography that goes along with it. I call it the "YMCA" that never ends! I would just be agonizing over getting these letters right in my bathroom. I think everybody has a story about the first time they nail it. You almost have a panic attack when you get it right. I was thrilled when it finally happened and now it is such muscle memory that I don't have to think about it. That was not always the case certainly.

WCT: There has to be a little bit of fear in a piece like that.

RW: You know it is just because Mary is a practically perfect entity. She is not a human being so it is an interesting challenge to do it eight times a week because she always exists on a certain plane. You have to figure out how to get yourself ready for that everyday. It is one of the exciting challenges.

WCT: I wonder why gay audiences particularly identify with Mary Poppins—maybe the musical aspect of it and growing up with the movie?

RW: I think it is fun with a lot of spectacle, which is exciting. The costumes are fantastic. You can't really help it. There is a great message and story along with incredible set design. The music is amazing. I think all audiences walk out feeling lifted.

Interview by Jerry Nunn for Windy City Times

Mary Poppins makes the "medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar" through Nov. 6. Visit www.broadwayinchicago.com for ticket information "in a most delightful way."

Interviewed by Windy City Times