Age: 22 "in a few weeks."
Currently: Giving stalwart comic support in Broadway's Legally Blonde as Margot, Elle Woods' ditziest Delta Nu sorority sister.
Born to Sing, Born to Dance: The daughter of a gym teacher, Ashford spent her preschool years in "bad gymnastics classes," as she puts it. Finally, at the ripe old age of seven, "I looked up and said, 'Mom, it's time. It's time.'" Mom knew exactly what Annaleigh meant, since her precocious daughter had already mastered the four songs on her Liza Minnelli karaoke tape "'City Lights,' 'Cabaret,' 'Maybe This Time' and 'New York, New York,'" she ticks off. Next stop: Denver's Kit Andre Performing Arts Center, run by "an old-school belter who had false eyelashes out to here and a big diamond ring that said 'Kit' on it in rubies," Ashford recalls fondly. "It couldn't have been more perfect. She taught me phrasing and breathing and songs that were completely inappropriate for little girls. When I was eight, I sang, 'On My Own' in a talent competition."
Girl in a Hurry: Ashford made her professional debut at 10 as Tina Denmark in Ruthless, the same role Legally Blonde star Laura Bell Bundy played in New York. Eager to jumpstart her career, the young actress figured out a way to finish high school in three years "all I needed was one correspondence course", then hightailed it to Marymount Manhattan College, where she managed to earn a theater degree in three years. "I wouldn't say that I'm fearless," she says of her drive to succeed, "but I always knew that this is what I have to do for the rest of my life."
I Will Survive: Though it appears Ashford achieved instant success, she claims she never had a successful professional audition while in college. Her survival jobs included temping at a law firm, greeting clients at the Peninsula Spa, hostessing at Fiorello's restaurant and helping run kids' birthday parties at a craft studio. Her first big break—the national tour of Wicked—came through when she was selling Kiehl's cosmetics at Bloomingdale's. "On the day I found out, I knew I was going to get a call whether I got the job or not," she remembers. "All of us at the Kiehl's counter were waiting by the phone. When it rang, I said, 'I got it!' and 100 people at all the makeup counters screamed and clapped."
Road Work: "Every actor should tour," declares Ashford, who remained on the road for 10 months in the Wicked ensemble and understudied the role of Glinda. "It's such a roller coaster because you spend the first couple of days [in each new city] saying, 'Okay, where's my Starbucks? Where's the post office? Where's the grocery?'" she explains. "When you don't have a home to keep you balanced, you have to find other ways to keep your spirits up." She got her first shot at playing the lead while in Fort Lauderdale. "I thought I would be freaked out, but I was ready to go," she says. "Stephanie Block was Elphaba that day, Sebastian Arcelus was Fiyero, and Carole Shelley and David Garrison were in the show [as Madame Morrible and the Wizard]. As I was going up in the bubble, the entire cast was saying, 'Have fun! You're going to be wonderful!' It was magical."
Daughter of Delta Nu: Ashford arrived for her Legally Blonde audition decked out in pink high-heeled jellies with bows on top. "They were the most ridiculous shoes," she says with a laugh. "I got a spray tan the day before, I got my roots done—I was raring to go!" Though she hasn't gone on for Laura Bell Bundy as Elle "she's a trouper and we want her to stay that way", Ashford has subbed for the leading lady at a couple of events and marvels at the demands of director Jerry Mitchell's nonstop musical staging. "It's one of the hardest shows on Broadway," she says, adding, "I knew it was going to be a hit after the first read-through. It's really clever and so much fun to do."
Catch Her If You Can: With her Cameron Diaz-ish looks and a speaking voice that's reminiscent of Kristin Chenoweth, Ashford seems primed for big things in the New York theatrical world. Indeed, she's already been plucked to play the ingenue Brenda created on film by Amy Adams in a staged reading of the Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman/Terrence McNally musical Catch Me If You Can on July 17. "I just want to work," Ashford says. "I don't care where I do it. Whether it's singing or dancing or acting, this is it for me."