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London’s original musical “Mary” is now Broadway’s newest nanny

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London’s original musical “Mary” is now Broadway’s newest nanny

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This is Sardi’s. The 82 year-old restaurant that was once the white-hot center of the celebrity universe.

Sardis distintive sign in New York City
Photo by Nancy Stadler

By that I mean: You weren’t really considered a star in NYC unless your caricature adorned the wall of this exclusive eatery.

Which is why -- as you wander the halls at 234 West 44th Street -- you’ll find stylized portraits of stage legends like Robert Preston

Sardi's caricature of Broadway's own Robert Preston
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… film favorites like Margaret Hamilton (aka the Wicked Witch of the West from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”) …

Margaret Hamilton's famous Sardis caricature
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… TV pioneers like Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney

Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney as they appear in Sardis Restaurant
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… even pop culture icons like Kermit the Frog.

A mustachioed Kermit the Frog looks out over Sardis Restaurant
Photo by Nancy Stadler

In short, this tony setting (Which – FYI – was actually where the Tonys were dreamed up back in 1946) is the perfect place to meet the practically perfect Laura Michelle Kelly. That 28 year-old Olivier Award-winning actress who recently arrived on New York to reprise the role that she originated in London back in 2004. Which was the title character in Disney & Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway production of “Mary Poppins.”

Mind you, this isn’t Laura’s first time trodding the boards on the Great White Way. She actually made her Broadway debut at the Minskoff Theatre (Which is where the stage version of Disney’s “The Lion King” is now being presented) back in February of 2004. When she played Hodel to Alfred Molina’s Tevye in a revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“It was actually while I was performing in ‘Fiddler’ that I found out that I’d been chosen to play Mary,” Kelly remembered. “I’d auditioned for the part back in 2003 and had then just assumed that they’d gone with someone else. So to find out that I’d won that role – especially while I was in New York, appearing on Broadway – was just such a thrill.”

Of course, this isn’t to say that there weren’t some strong indications early on that Cameron was very interested in having Laura play Mary Poppins. Kelly recalled what happened back in 2003, when she was playing Eliza Doolittle in the West End revival of “My Fair Lady.”

Laura Michelle Kelly poses at Sardis Restaurant in New York City
Laura Michelle Kelly struts her stuff at Sardi's.
Photo by Nancy Stadler 

“One of his assistants gave me a copy of the original P.L. Travers book to read,” she recalled. “Then Cameron came in and talked with me about the role. It was all very hush-hush. But given that I’d always been such a big Julie Andrews fan, it was a thrill just to be considered for a part that she helped create.”

Speaking of that book … Every night before she goes on stage at the New Amsterdam, Laura makes a point of re-reading a few pages of P.L. Traversnovel. Which – she thinks – really helps get her in character for that evening’s performance.

“It’s not often that an actress gets the chance to do what I’ve gotten to do with ‘Mary Poppins,’ ” Kelly explained. “Which is revisit a role that you helped create. You see, I’ve changed & grown in the four years since I last played this part. So re-reading those pages every night … Well, it reminds me of how P.L.Travers saw this character. Which is what I always try to bring to the stage.”

One of the other things that Laura enjoys about “Mary Poppins” is how much this musical has changed since it first tried out at the Bristol Hippodrome back in September 2004.

Laura Michelle Kelly has a Spoon Full of Sugar before heading off to play Mary Poppins
"A Spoonful of Sugar " ... makes the interview a bit easier to bear.
Photo by Nancy Stadler 

“And it’s still changing,” Kelly laughed. “I love all of the plussing that they’ve done to the ‘Jolly Holiday’ number, making that sequence in the show bigger and more colorful. And we’ve just restaged that scene in Act One where the toys come to life and then scare Jane & Michael. Now it’s Mary who drives the magic in that number. She’s the one who gets across to the Banks children how important it is to not lose your temper and then take good care of your things.”

When asked what else is different about appearing in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” versus the original production in London’s West End, Laura was quick to point toward the flying that’s done in during this musical’s final sequence.

“When I did this show at the Prince Edward Theatre, Mary didn’t fly nearly as far or get quite as close to the audience,” Kelly continued. “But at the New Amsterdam, I go so much farther out into the hall and get that much closer to the audience. There literally are moments when I’m flying during the finale that people could reach out and touch me, if they wanted.”

Of course, the flip side of Laura's new flight path is that – given how so close she gets to the audience during “Mary Poppins” finale – Ms. Kelly has to remember to stay in character when she spies celebrities out in the audience.

Laura Michelle Kelly as Mary Poppins in Disney's Mary Poppins stage musical
Laura Michelle Kelly in "Mary Poppins" on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Copyright 2009 Disney Theatrical Productions. All Rights Reserved

“Like the other night,” Laura said. “I look down and there’s Jude Law and his daughter. He’s a very nice man, by the way. He and his daughter came backstage after the show. And we then showed them around the set. Let them see how the magic was done.”

Speaking of which … If you’d like to get the Jude Law treatment, then you may want to consider buying some tickets for the New York version of “Mary Poppins” over the next few weeks. You see – as this Disney Theatrical / Cameron Mackintosh production begins its annual Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS fund-raising drive – Laura and her fellow cast members have begun offering some very tempting incentives in order to persuade audience members to contribute to this very worthy cause.

Take – for example – what you get if you donate $10 to Broadway Cares / Equity fights AIDS. Which is a Starlighter bookmark that’s been autographed by the actors playing Jane & Michael Banks which has a real piece of “starlighter star” attached to it.

For a $20 donation, you can either get a Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS holiday ornament that’s been embossed with the names of all of this season’s Broadway show OR a copy of “Carols for a Cure.” Which is a 2-disc set of holiday music performed by the casts of some of Broadway’s biggest shows.

For a $25 donation, you can get a “Mary Poppins” window card that’s been autographed by the entire cast of this Disney Theatrical / Cameron Mackintosh show.

Laurel Michelle Kelly and Christian Borle on stage in Disney's Mary Poppins
Laura Michelle Kelly and Christian Borle in "Mary Poppins" on Broadway.
Photo by Joan Marcus. Copyright 2009 Disney Theatrical Productions. All Rights Reserved

And for a donation of $150, you and three friends get to pretend you’re Jude Law. You'll get to go backstage at the New Amsterdam Theatre and then get a tour of the set. You even get to meet Laura Michelle Kelly, Christian Borle (i.e. “Mary Poppins” new Bert) as well as the two young performers who are playing Jane & Michael at that particular performance.

Sounds like a sweet deal, don’t you think? More to the point, your $150 contribution goes to a very worthy cause. Plus you get to meet the woman who originated the role of Mary Poppins in the West End production of this Disney & Cameron Mackintosh production.

And if you do get to spend any time with Ms. Kelly, be sure and ask her about the performance of “Mary Poppins” that Dame Julie Andrews attended back in March of 2005.

“I was more nervous performing in front of Julie than I was for the Queen,” Laura said. “And then my skirt started to fall off while I was onstage performing ‘Jolly Holiday” … “

Trust me, folks. This is a great story with a very sweet ending. But if you want Ms. Kelly herself to tell you how her encounter with the gracious & generous Ms. Andrews played out … Well, you’re going to have to donate $150 to Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS first.

For further information on available performance dates & ticket prices for the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins,” please click on this link.

I know, I know. We're still three weeks out from Thanksgiving and people are already yammering about Christmas.

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Happy Holidays!

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