by Anna Wehr
Not many people can say they began their Broadway journey as a universal swing in Wicked, but Desi Oakley can. Since then she’s been a swing for the most recent Broadway production of Annie, standby for Eva Perón on the National Tour of Evita, and Jenna on the National tour of Waitress. You can catch her as the iconic Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago this summer.
Like most performers, Oakley’s path to Broadway was one-of-a-kind. After graduating from the University of Michigan she gained representation and began attending five to six audition calls a week in New York City. Her agents believed her star-quality would carry her straight to the top to a leading role. She recounts being astounded by the people she was auditioning alongside. Performers such as Patina Miller and Laura Benanti.
However, after about five months of these constant auditions calls, Oakley realized this might not be her path to Broadway. She wanted to do what she loved as her job. She shared her feelings with her agents and auditioned for Wicked the following day. She booked it and began her Broadway career as a universal swing.
Now what exactly is a universal swing? Essentially they fill in for countless ensemble roles in multiple companies of a show. In Oakley’s case she was part of Wicked’s two national tours and the Broadway company. She would fill in two weeks for someone on vacation, and maybe four weeks for someone on maternity leave.
She learned how different each production was and had to adjust to the different shoes she filled. For example, in one company the Elphaba understudy might dance frequently, but in another production the Glinda understudy might dance that role. She definitely had to be on her toes.
The joy Oakley feels from performing on Broadway hasn’t changed. She shared, “it’s okay to trust that I belong here.” Now she’s razzle dazzling for part of the summer as Roxie Hart on the Great White Way, making her leading lady Broadway debut. Learn more about Desi Oakley by listening to her on our podcast #157 My First Time.