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Interview: Ashley Brown of THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Music Hall At Fair Park

Ashley Brown is no stranger to the stage, having originated the role of MARY POPPINS in New York City after making her Broadway debut in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST a few years earlier. Ashley is also no stranger to Dallas, as she is returning to town after recently being here for an engagement with the Dallas Symphony, not to mention a visit to Music Hall at Fair Park with the MARY POPPINS national tour several years ago.

In addition, Ashley is not quite a stranger to me, as we have a quirky New York connection! Almost a decade ago, I briefly held a management position at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre, where I'd leave Ashley a case of water in her dressing room weekly. I recently had the chance to catch up on Ashley's new adventure in THE SOUND OF MUSIC playing a role she wasn't sure she was ready for! Check out our conversation below.

Name: Ashley Brown

Hometown: "I'm originally from Gulf Breeze, Florida. It's a small town near Pensacola."

Current Role: Mother Abbess in THE SOUND OF MUSIC national tour

Kyle Christopher West: Growing up, what first inspired you to perform?

Ashley Brown: I started singing at my Methodist church down the street. Then, I got involved with the Pensacola Children's Chorus, which is kind of what got me started. I think it was those two organizations that brought it out of me; nobody in my family is in music or in theatre or anything. I'm the youngest of four, so this was a new route for my family.

Kyle: Before performing professionally, did you play any memorable roles?

Ashley: Yes! My very first role in high school was Tiger Lily in PETER PAN, and my favorite role I played after that was Maria in WEST SIDE STORY.

Kyle: You made your Broadway debut in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and are probably best know for playing the title role in MARY POPPINS. You've also toured in Disney's ON THE RECORD, and even included a Disney medley in your recent concert with the Dallas Symphony. Would it be fair to say that Disney has been a large part of your career?

Ashley: Absolutely. I got cast in ON THE RECORD a week out of college and it just kind of started from there. I auditioned for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and booked that, and I auditioned nine times for MARY POPPINS, so by no means was anything given to me. Disney has been such a huge part of my life, and I'm so thankful. Tom Schumacher [President of Disney Theatrical Group] has been such a huge mentor and believer in me. Never in my wildest dreams as a kid could I have ever imagined this. I just got one one-way ticket to New York and prayed [laughs] and worked really, really hard!

Kyle: Now, I fully believe that you worked your way into Mary Poppins, but when you played Belle [in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST], and Disney changed all of their marketing to "Introducing Ashley Brown," I must say that I knew they had big plans for you.

Ashley: [Laughs] It's funny. A lot of people say, "...Didn't you realize?..." but it's not in my makeup to think that way. I thought, "Oh gosh. I'm on a t-shirt. I'm the fifteenth Belle. I guess they're just trying to reinvent this business."

Kyle: Your role in THE SOUND OF MUSIC seems to stray a bit from the roles you typically play. What attracted you to the character?

Ashley: Well, honestly, what attracted me to the whole thing was [director] Jack O'Brien. You know, he is one of those directors who has been on my list of people to work with. I've heard amazing things, and I've been dying to work with him. When they called and said he wanted me to be Mother Abbess, I was like, "Excuse me?? Does he know I'm thirty years old?" I was a little taken aback. I thought that was something I might play in thirty years, so I didn't quite understand it. I didn't want to say no to Jack O'Brien, but I didn't think this was right for me at all. So I had a few meetings with Jack and we kind of just talked it over: he had a brand new idea of what he wanted this role to be. Our discussions really inspired me because, in a way, I'm creating this from scratch. I'm not doing anything that's been done with this role before. This version of the show is unlike any other version. It was actually really hard at first, because I was in the NBC Live version with Carrie Underwood. I've played Maria before. I grew up with the movie. We all have this preconceived notion of what each character is. In this version, nobody is who you think they are. I think that's what makes it interesting.

Kyle: For fans of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, both on stage and on screen, how does this tour compare to other versions of the show?

Ashley: Honestly, I think this version is better [than the movie and original Broadway versions of the show]. People are really enjoying it, and it actually has a lot more humor than I've ever seen in [the show] before. I think because Jack O'Brien just stripped away everything, and we just got to the root of the material. I don't think anybody needs to prepare for seeing something different, but it's a really interesting take [on the show].

Kyle: You also have many guest appearances scheduled with different orchestras across the country. How are you able to juggle so much material at once?

Ashley: I don't really have much of a life [laughs], but I love it! I had all of these concerts lined up before they asked me to do THE SOUND OF MUSIC. I said I'd work around them, and I'd give one hundred percent to both. It's a gift to be doing what I love, but it's a lot of hard work and sometimes I'm really, really tired [laughs]. But that's just what I agreed to do. I try to sleep when I can, and I just have to depend on the old noggin to remember all those lyrics!

Kyle: In THE SOUND OF MUSIC, or any of you other shows, do you have any good stories about onstage mistakes or mishaps?

Ashley: Oh God, yes! In MARY POPPINS, the stairs were carpeted, I did this gag every time I went up the stairs that I didn't look, and kind of looked like I was floating. A lot of the times that worked, but there was this one show that I fell and the Jane and Michael piled up on my back because they fell too. My face planted and I could tell there was going to be blood. The whole audience [gasped], and my first thought was, "Well, at least they care about me." [Laughs] I knew I had to fill the moment, so I just looked up and said "practically" [as in the song, "Practically Perfect"] and the whole audience went nuts. They were laughing and clapping. For the rest of the show, I had a scab on my forehead, a scab on my nose and a scab on my chin. That'll keep you grounded...literally.

Kyle: Once THE SOUND OF MUSIC tour ends, what might be next for you? Are there any roles you've been dying to play?

Ashley: You know, I'd love to do another Rodger's and Hammerstein show, and I'd love to [perform at] Lincoln Center. That's the one little divot I haven't tapped into yet. I feel like I was born to do those classic musicals with those beautiful big scores. Hopefully that's what will happen next!

Kyle: Well, we look forward to seeing you soon in Dallas. Thank you so much for your time!

Ashley: Thank you so much! And thank you for all those water bottles during MARY POPPINS [laughs].



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From This Author - Kyle West

Kyle Christopher West is obsessed with the arts. Growing up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Kyle trained as a gymnast and dancer where he performed across the East Coast in productions of West Side Sto... (read more about this author)


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