Ashley Brown faced a challenge when she created the title role of Mary Poppins for its U.S. premiere on Broadway in 2006. She'd seen the classic 1964 Disney movie version "about a million times" as a little girl, fixing the image of Julie Andrews' take on the beloved nanny in her head.
"I definitely work to not mimic her at all," says Brown. To keep Andrews at bay while preparing for auditions, she read the P.L. Travers books the movie was based on. That helped her re-invent the character for a stage production that keeps "A Spoonful Of Sugar" and all the movie's original hit songs by the Sherman brothers Richard and Robert, and introduces some new ones by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. She stayed on for the touring production, which launched in Chicago in March. Cleveland is the first stop after that.
"The books are fantastic," says Brown. "They have a lot more characters, so we have some different characters in the musical. I think the books show insight in the family's real issues. You get to know the family more and realize that they have real problems."
She says the new material doesn't change the story but rather fills out the details.
"I think everybody wishes their nanny was like Mary Poppins, whipping everyone into shape in a very nice, unapologetic way," says Brown. "I think people relate more now with more complicated family issues. Mr. Banks loses his job at the bank. He realizes toward the end that it's not what matters. I think actually people come and are really surprised by how much they relate to the family. They know how it is to be the child, or the dad with so much responsibility."