June 30, 2008

UW-L Theater Student Delivers Third Lead Role of the Year

By Terry Rindfleisch, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jun. 30--Natalie Wikstrom has been the leading lady of La Crosse theater in 2008. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse senior has had the leading roles in back-to-back-to-back musicals -- Laurey in UW-L's "Oklahoma," Maria in La Crosse Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music" and now Sally Bowles in UW-L's SummerStage production of "Cabaret."

She has been in rehearsal or performing in musicals every week the past six months, except for a couple of weeks.

"This has been an absolute dream doing these roles," Wikstrom said. "I wouldn't have traded this for the world. And besides, I get to sing all this incredible music."

Theater audiences haven't seen much of Wikstrom until this year. So where in the world has she been?

A 2003 graduate of Westby High School, Wikstrom auditioned and was accepted into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.

"The academy helped me with my acting and singing, and taught me how to be professional as an actress," Wikstrom said.

She said she left the academy just short of the two years in the program, which didn't offer a degree. The academy didn't stage musicals and barred students from theater auditions.

"I didn't get a chance to perform, and by the end I was frustrated with my experience," Wikstrom said. "I decided I needed to go to college."

She enrolled at UW-L, majoring in psychology and staying away from the theater. "I just couldn't stay away any longer and transferred to the theater department," Wikstrom said.

Her first role at UW-L was in "On the Verge," but then she was cast for the lead in "Oklahoma!"

"Natalie is lovely to work with," said Mary Leonard, who directed "Oklahoma!" and is directing "Cabaret.""She comes to rehearsal so well-prepared. She is a real actress who thinks about her character and does thorough research." When she gets a script, Wikstrom said, she reads it many times. "I chew it apart and ask why my character says and does things," she said.

Leonard said Wikstrom continues to get major roles because she auditions well. "She also has a beautiful soprano voice with range," she said.

Wikstrom said she calls her voice "sopralto," which fits in between soprano and alto. "I like the flexibility of my voice, which allows me to pull off various roles," she said. "Other people like that my voice is powerful and clean."

Her favorite role in the three musicals is Sally in "Cabaret."

"This role best fits my personality and character," Wikstrom said. "Sally's fun-loving and loves to make people feel good and happy."

Wikstrom said she plans to perform in regional theater in the Twin Cities or Chicago after graduation, which could be two years away. "Of course, I'd love to go back to New York City to be cast in a Broadway show and then climb the ladder," she said.

Until then, she plans to take a break and audition for more shows.

Get to know Sally Bowles

UW-L's SummerStage production of "Cabaret" continues this week with performances Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ticket reservations are suggested. For tickets, call the box office at (608) 785-8522 between 1 and 4:30 p.m. daily except Friday and one hour before show time.


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