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Posted 5/1/2013

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By Bill Dowell
Seattle District Public Affairs

Living a double life is typically considered scandalous, often full of tabloid headlines and paparazzi. For Leah Wickstrom it means a reserved environment full of engineers and scientists by day. By night -- it’s dress rehearsals, dazzling costumes, opening nights and her name in lights.

It’s a balance. Something she uses a color-coded calendar to keep track of. She does it with realitve ease, having more than 25 years to perfect her system. Since she was 5 years old, Wickstrom has been singing, dancing and acting in the theater.

She has an Elle Woods-esque way about her, being blonde, bubbly and super smart, similar to the 2001 film "Legally Blonde" character. This may have played a part in her earning the lead "Legally Blonde: The Musical" at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse, April 5-28.

"I was always singing and dancing around the house when I was little and my mom decided ‘maybe we should try her in theater,’" Wickstrom said.

A kindergarten friend’s mother ran a theater group and Wickstrom’s mother got her involved. "My first show was ‘Peter Rabbit’ and I was Mr. McGregor," she said.

Wickstrom continued with that theater troupe until fifth grade when she saw "Beauty and the Beast" and her mother recommended she take dance classes if she wanted to continue in musical theater. At first Wickstrom didn’t care for the dancing but said she grew to love it, taking ballet, tap and jazz. Although, singing is her favorite, "…then dancing, then acting," she said.

While singing, dancing and acting in musicals played large roles in her life growing up, it was her love of math that pushed her towards engineering. An obvious influence in her life, it was her mother who convinced Wickstrom she loved math.

After a rough school day, Wickstrom came home exclaiming "I hate math!" To which her mother replied, "Oh, no, math is SO fun!"

"She loved math and always helped me and I ended up really liking math and science," she said.

In high school Wickstrom was involved in a marine chemistry program all four years and took the hardest math classes she could. It was the logical thinker in her that she says pushed her towards engineering and getting a solid job.

"I figured that if I ever wanted to pursue theater I could do that at my own pace and didn’t necessarily need to have a degree in theater. It was a struggle though, I did a lot of thinking," she admitted.

So, she decided to go the engineering route at the University of Southern California, earning her Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering. As it turned out USC also had a musical theater minor which she applied for. It was during her time there that she took her first acting classes.

"I took musical theater acting," she said. "The strict acting is very different. Musical theater is this in-between group. It’s not strictly vocal performance, but it’s not strictly theater, it was an interesting program."

After college Wickstrom "floundered about" working at a coffee shop for a while. She knew about the Corps because her grandfather worked here 25 years. But a family friend who worked at Joint Base Lewis-McChord helped her navigate the federal employment maze. She ended up getting what she wanted, a project management job.

"It’s been interesting and rewarding working at the Corps," Wickstrom said. "I like the challenge of navigating the government processes and schedules, but theater is a whole different world that provides a different outlet. I love it because it’s a nice balance. I get to work with people who are technically minded and people who have crazy, flamboyant personalities. Both have drive and depth that come from opposite ends of the personality spectrum."