Ashley Brown is best known for originating the role of Mary Poppins in Disney’s long-running family musical Mary Poppins. Now, Brown is one of four stars participating in the one-night-only Songs For a New World concert at XL Cabaret on March 11. We caught up with the talented soprano to chat about working on the Jason Robert Brown musical, recording her debut album, saying goodbye to Mary Poppins and how the magical musical changed her life.
How did you become involved in Songs for a New World?
Michael Scott and I were at dinner, and he said, “I saw Closer Than Ever and it dawned on me we should do Songs for a New World.” I said, “OK, in a dream world how would we do it? Who would get involved?” Literally, he called me two days later and said, “Ashley, remember that dream list? Everybody said yes.” It’s so amazing, and it means a lot to all of us how many yesses we got. It really is a dream project.
Why do you think people embraced this show? What makes it universally appealing?
Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics are just so interesting and unlike anybody else. I relate to a song in 1995 and I relate to the same song in 2013. There’s something about the songs and the project that speak to so many different people and age groups. I remember when it came out; I had never heard anything like it.
As you’re working, is there a hope that the benefit might turn into an off-Broadway run?
That is definitely our long-term goal. It all happened so fast and has been such a dream, and we’d love to share it night after night after night.
How did you go about selecting the songs for your solo album Speak Low? What do they mean to you?
When I was putting it together, I sat down with almost 100 songs, then narrowed it down to songs that either spoke to me or I had a new idea about. I wanted to put my artistic take on the classics. I had to narrow it down to “If it weren’t on my album could I live with myself?” [Laughs.]
When you look back on the experience opening Mary Poppins on Broadway, what’s your biggest pinch-me moment?
I was so young and it was one of my very first shows, I didn’t know what to expect, so I just went day by day. Doing all the morning shows made it real for me. I’ll never forget when I bowed that first night because I remember walking out and crying, and I’m sure people were like, “All right Poppins, get it together.” It was such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and I couldn’t wait to do more. Being a little girl from the South, I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d get called in for "together" English women. But hey, I’ll take it. For thousands of people, I was their first Mary Poppins, and it’s something I’ll always carry with me.
What other iconic roles are you itching to play?
I’m an old school girl, I love Show Boat and The King and I. I’d love to do My Fair Lady and Wicked—heck, why not? There are so many things I want to do and that I’m capable of doing.
So what’s next for you after Songs For a New World?
I’m doing Oklahoma! at the Lyric Opera of Chicago [playing Laurey beginning May 9] and Carnegie Hall picked up my solo show Under the Mistletoe with Ashley Brown this December 19 and 20. I literally collapsed on the floor when I got that phone call.
Check out Ashley Brown in Songs For a New World at XL Cabaret on March 11, and get a preview of the concert below.