Mary Poppins: This Disney Baby Grew Up Bigtime

Categories: Stage
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Photo by Joan Marcus
In high school in her home state of Florida, Ashley Brown "thought" she wanted to be on the volleyball team. "In the middle of it, I hated it. I hated every minute of it because I was horrible, but my mom made me finish out the year," she says.

She never learned how to spike the ball really well or cover the court. But she did get a lot of experience in perseverance -- which played out pretty well for her as she worked her way up from small town choir member with absolutely no New York connections to starring as Mary Poppins on Broadway.

In fact, Brown initiated the role on Broadway and is now touring with the national road company, on its way to Houston in just three weeks.

This is the third Disney project for her. She came through Texas on the national tour of On the Record (a Disney review) in 2005 and later that year she debuted on Broadway when she took over the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

"I was such a Disney baby growing up, always watching the movies," Brown says. "Being able to create the role on Broadway has been amazing."

The other day, Hair Balls interviewed her counterpart Gavin Lee, the Tony Award nominee who plays chimney-sweep Bert, and he told of his moments of excitement when he got stalled upside down hanging from the ceiling during a performance. 

 Asked if she's experienced anything similar, Brown laughed, saying yes, but it's still safe.

"I've never been over an audience when that happened. It happened once when I was over the stage and the computer shut down. But there's all these emergency settings that they have. They push a button and I'm just lowered. They always have a Plan B."

In fact, it has never been the heights and the flying that rattled Brown about taking on the part -- which among other things requires her to sing as she flies through the air with the aid of wires.

"I was more afraid of stepping into the shoes of Julie Andrews. That was more intimidating to me," she says.

The musical offers all the music from the movie -- which means sometimes people in the audience sing along, Brown says. That doesn't bother her as much as ringing cell phones, but asked if she'd pull a Hugh Jackman (the actor went out of character on a New York stage the other day to ask an audience member to answer his phone and then shut it off), she says:

"Cell phones go off all the time, but there's not much we can do about it. Hugh Jackman has a lot more power. He can get away with a lot more than I can."

Surprisingly enough to Hair Balls, Brown said it's not the national tour audiences who are the worst with the cell phones; it's New York City crowds. "I think it's because of the hustle and bustle of New York. Everybody is always running so late and in getting to their seats, they just forget."

Hey, score one for the slower-paced rubes.

Anyhow, Brown says even adults will like the show. "There's so much magic. I fly over the audiences and I pull things out of my bag. It's such a special evening."

The tour is in Dallas right now. When they come to Houston, make sure to turn off those cell phones. Ashley Brown probably won't pull a Hugh Jackman if you don't, but why interrupt the magic? Hey and then you can sit there secure in the knowledge that you are more sophisticated than any New York crowd.  

Mary Poppins runs October 22 through November 8 at the Hobby Center. Ticket information is available at broadwayacrossamerica.com and at thehobbycenter.org.


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