Keeper of the Plans

Wichita native becomes real-life ‘American Girl’ doll in touring show

From Music Theatre Wichita to East High, Kelsey Pressnall has performed plenty of times on Wichita stages.

Next week, however, will be the first time she’s been here as a professional actress.

Pressnall, a Wichita East High School grad, is part of the national tour of “American Girl Live,” which stops at Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre on Thursday.

The musical features characters from the beloved “American Girl” series of dolls — and Pressnall plays Maryellen Larkin in this show, as well as another role.

“I never really thought I’d be very interested in children’s theater, but reading through this script, I thought this is something very special,” she said. “I’m very passionate about encouraging young women to feel empowered and to feel like they can do anything they want to do, and this show really helps send that message.”

The 90-minute show focuses on a group of five campers at “Camp American Girl,” who learn to be bold and brave by supporting each other and learning from the lessons of the “American Girl” historical characters.

Landing a role with the six-month-long “American Girl Live” tour was Pressnall’s first major theatrical gig.

She said it was a perfect fit — the show was looking for a sporty, athletic actress who could pass as a young girl. At 4-foot-11, Pressnall said she has “a lot of experience playing kids.”

Performing for the many children in the audience each night is particularly gratifying for her, she said.

“It’s just such a cool thing to be able every day to see these little girls transfixed by this show and be absorbing the message at the same time,” Pressnall said. “It’s something I really wish I could have seen as a kid.”

Not that Pressnall didn’t start pursuing her theatrical dreams early and often as a kid in Wichita.

She started performing at 6 years old, when her mother signed her up for a Music Theatre for Young People day camp.

“I just fell in love with it and kept going back with MTYP until I was about 17, doing shows, camps, volunteering and doing all kinds of things with them,” she said.

She also sang in Music Theatre Wichita’s Teen Choir for multiple years and appeared on-stage with that company for “Les Miserables” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

After graduating from East High’s International Baccalaureate program in 2012, she attended Drury University in Springfield, Mo., where she continued to study theater. After performing at a variety of regional and summer-stock theaters, she now lives in New York City.

The “American Girl Live” tour continues through May, after which Pressnall said she is planning a trip to Europe.

She said she’s looking forward to returning to Wichita next week — albeit for a brief stay, as the show moves on to Dallas just a couple days after the Orpheum stop.

“I feel like it I owe to (Wichita) for finding this passion I now have in theater,” she said. “It’s cool to be bringing it back.”

‘American Girl Live’

When: 7 p.m. Thurs., April 4

Where: Wichita Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway

Tickets: $29.25-$103.50 available at

More information:,

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.