By Carl Kozlowski
As the staff cutter fitter for “MAD TV” the last four seasons, David Wallace has helped create the costumes for the Fox sketch-comedy series’ outlandish characters and celebrity impersonations. Yet it’s his lifelong passion for soulful singing that brought the show’s cast and crew together in their free time for musical parties that are an all-too-rare display of Hollywood off-screen staff unity.
Starting with a rousing performance at the upstairs club of Farfello’s restaurant in L.A. in March in which he teamed on vocals with fellow MAD staffer Phyllis Bailey Brooks and an R&B band complete with horn section, Wallace’s ability to hit the vocal heights of his heroes Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross and Tony Bennett have helped him stand out among the show’s Emmy-nominated costume department. Such notice is all the more remarkable considering that until five years ago Wallace had a nondescript job as a credit manager for the Cherokee apparel company.
“I made a white Elvis comeback suit on my own time for (Latino Elvis impersonator) El Vez, and a woman named Shelly Gray, who was in charge of costumes for Being John Malkovich, saw it, liked it and brought me in as that movie’s cutter fitter,” Wallace recalls. “I had worked in the past as a pattern fitter for Speedo and Authentic Fitness, so I got back into it easily.”
Wallace’s break at MAD TV came soon afterwards, and he has found a “unique, laugh-filled family” amid the show’s high-spirited hijinks. The jovial environment helps leaven a breakneck pace in which the costumers receive a new array of costume orders each Monday for fittings on Thursday, with final outfit changes implemented by the Friday night tapings.
A Los Angeles native, Wallace started singing at the First AME Church in Los Angeles, belting out gospel songs in the choir starting in the early ‘70s. He soon traveled the world with Bob Hope, entertaining soldiers at bases far and wide as part of a USO entertainer troupe, and has continued to perform at charitable fundraisers. His singing career highlight thus far came when he opened for Lionel Richie on New Year’s Eve last year at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
When Wallace finally found the time to organize his Farfello’s show, he teamed with Brooks because he had seen her sing at her own occasional showcases throughout the city. She had recently convinced him to start taking classes in musical theater, and he felt teaming up to cut loose for co-workers might make for a highly memorable night. Sure enough, the MAD staff packed the house and provided a supportive springboard for Wallace and Brooks to build upon.
“I sing originals and covers, and because I do a lot of weddings and parties, I enjoy any songs that come straight from the heart – whether soul, adult/contemporary or opera,” he says. “Performing in a club that I enjoy with a band that I’ve picked with friends, and revealing me to people I know and care about is an experience that can’t be beat.”
By Carl Kozlowski