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A life of preparation for 'Wicked'

Not being able to watch 'The Wizard of Oz' was a childhood punishment for the Costa Mesa resident who is the Galinda/Glinda understudy.

March 10, 2011|By Candice Baker
(Courtesy Lesley…)

For Lesley McKinnell, whose childhood was filled with the sights and sounds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, being "Wicked" has paid off.

Now in her early 20s, McKinnell has translated her experiences both on- and off-stage at the center, now known as the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, into a successful musical theater career.

She has spent more than two years performing and understudying in the two national tours of "Wicked," a sort of prequel to "The Wizard of Oz." It tells the stories of the misunderstood — and very green — Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, and pretty, popular Galinda Upland, who goes on to become Glinda, the Good Witch.

"It's a big Broadway smash musical," McKinnell said. "If you want to have an amazing, entertaining evening, and if you love 'The Wizard of Oz,' you will love it for their inside jokes and moments. But if you don't know 'The Wizard of Oz,' you can also enjoy it because it stands on its own. It's about two friends, and it's about acceptance. And there's a green girl."

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McKinnell performs in the ensemble, and is one of two understudies for Galinda/Glinda; she goes onstage in the role when the main actress takes a personal day or is sick. She also understudies for Nessarose. Performing in locales like Albuquerque, McKinnell noted, was especially rough for the principal actors due to its dry climate; high altitude also can take a toll.

"As an understudy, you definitely have to be solid it the role," she said. "You always have to be on your toes. I've been on the road for a long, long time, but they really take care of you. They provide a trunk that they travel for you, and I've sort of made myself a home life in there, with olive oil and a pan. We actually get to settle into each city, as opposed to living out of a suitcase. I always manage to unpack. There's really not a better tour contract. I feel really, really blessed to be on the two 'Wicked' tours, because it's been an awesome thing to see the United States for your job."

McKinnell admitted that she was neutral about "Wicked" before auditioning for it.

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