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At This Performance: WICKED's Reigning 'Elphaba' Standby Lilli Cooper!

At This Performance: WICKED's Reigning 'Elphaba' Standby Lilli Cooper!

BroadwayWorld presents the next installment of our new weekly feature, 'At This Performance' highlighting the work of some of Broadway's hardest-working actors - understudies and standbys!

Waiting in the wings, these show-savers detail their favorite moments on stage, backstage, and in rehearsal in this new series, offering an inside look at one of the most stressful jobs on the Great White Way.

Lilli Cooper, a born and bred New Yorker, is right at home on the Great White Way. The actress currently serves as WICKED's reigning Elphaba standby, though she made her Broadway debut in SPRING AWAKENING, opposite Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, while still in her teens. Prior to making the move to Oz at the Gershwin Theatre, Cooper went green in the Melbourne, Australia and U.S. national touring companies of WICKED. Her other stage credits include Atlantic Theater Company's THE THREEPENNY OPERA and Goodspeed's LMNOP.

You can find her on Twitter at @lillicooper.

How many times have you gone on as Elphaba? On Broadway I've been on about 35 times. Altogether, about 50, including tour and Australia!

What was your first time on like? I've been lucky enough to have experienced 3 'first times' as Elphaba, and they were all thrilling! The first time ever was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My brothers and mother flew out to see me and I knew about it pretty far in advance so I was very prepared but very nervous. The surge of adrenaline got me through it and I hardly remembered a moment of it.

My second 'first time' was in Melbourne with the incredibly talented Australian cast of Wicked. I had flown to Australia on a Tuesday, arrived on a Wednesday, rehearsed with a group of strangers on Thursday and my first show was Friday! That was a whirlwind I will never forget.

My first time as Elphaba on Broadway was in September of 2014. I found out at about 6pm, 2 hours before the show. In some cases I like having less notice because I have less time to overthink things! My Broadway Elphie debut was a blast. There was this palpable surge of energy pulsing through the cast as they supported me through this marathon. My parents and a few great friends were in the audience that night.

What's the most challenging part of being an understudy? It is next to impossible to build up the stamina needed for this incredibly demanding role when you're not on all the time. So I think one of the hardest parts of being a cover is going from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye. Imagine sitting backstage and reading a book, or knitting a scarf one moment, and then just minutes or hours later you could be on stage, painted green, climbing an infinite amount of stairs and belting your face off. There is actually a treadmill in the rehearsal room I use to practice running while singing!

What's your most memorable call-time story? A few minutes after places was called for an evening performance one night, I got a text from my stage manager desperately asking me where I was and to call her immediately. Luckily, I was up in the rehearsal studio warming up for a concert I was planning on singing at that night, otherwise I wouldn't be quite as prepared for what was to follow. I called my stage manager who told me our Elphie wasn't feeling well but thought she could get through the show. About 20 minutes later I'm rushed into the Elphie dressing room, painted green in about 7 minutes and into my "Galindified" costume. The most surreal moment of the whole transition was seeing Elphie onstage from the wings, and then walking on as Elphie in the next scene. It felt like a tag-team. I definitely heard some confused murmurs from the front row, but I'm guessing anyone past the 10th row didn't even notice the switch out! Until they made the announcement at the end of intermission, which probably eased a lot of folks minds who thought they were going crazy and seeing two green girls.

What's your favorite way to pass the time backstage? I've developed a few hobbies! If I'm feeling super motivated I'll do a little workout, I've picked up knitting, I love decorating the green-room for any upcoming holidays, and now Tess Soltau (Standby for Glinda) and I have started decorating our dressing room with our finished puzzles!

I'm also working on a new webseries to keep those creative juices flowing while I'm not on stage!

You can check out Cooper's new web series HERE and HERE!

Though you can only catch Cooper as Elphaba on very special occasions, we've got a collection of her other performance clips below!

Check back with BWW next Wednesday to catch up with another of Broadway's brightest in the next installment of 'At This Performance!'

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From This Author Tyler Peterson

Tyler is one of BroadwayWorld's lead News Desk Editors, covering breaking Broadway and theatre news daily. He studied Public Relations and Creative Writing at Loyola (read more...)

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