Poppin’ Up

Mary Poppins’ next alter ego has prior rooftop experience.

NEW YORK — Just a few short years ago, Laura Michelle Kelly went to an open call in London’s West End to be an understudy in “Beauty and the Beast.” Now she’s making her Broadway debut in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and preparing herself for her biggest career move yet: chim-chim-cherooing up the Prince Edward Theatre as everyone’s favorite nanny in the world premiere of “Mary Poppins” in London this December.

Kelly has already played most of the contemporary musical theater canon, though she only just turned 24 years old. She’s starred as Sophie, the daughter in “Mamma Mia;” Eponine in “Les Miserables” (“she has the big-belter numbers,” says Kelly); Wendy in “Peter Pan” at the Royal Festival Hall (with her two younger brothers, also actors), and Eliza Doolittle in Cameron Mackintosh’s recent production of “My Fair Lady.” And that’s not even including the various musicals, like “South Pacific” and “The King and I” that she starred in growing up on the Isle of Wight on the South Coast of England.

This story first appeared in the March 8, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I did every show possible there except the ones I’ve been in since,” she explains, over tea and biscuits a few days before the opening of “Fiddler,” in which she stars as Hodel, the middle daughter who moves away from Anatevka to be with her imprisoned husband.

The actress insists she never expected her career to turn out anything like this. “I was a girl who’d never even seen a West End production. I didn’t think I had a chance in hell,” she says of that first audition in London. “You’ve got a chance in a million — thousands and thousands get turned down every year.” But the producers saw something in Kelly and cast her as Belle’s understudy, and as a member of the chorus. “I played a dustpan and a broom,” she adds, with a laugh. “I was an enchanted object! I love saying that.”

Perhaps even more astounding is that Kelly has worked so steadily since. “Whenever I wondered what I was going to do next, something would come up,” she says. “I feel really blessed that I’ve been able to go from one job to another.”

As for “Mary Poppins,” Kelly promises it’s going to be “massive.”

“It’s Cameron Mackintosh and Disney, so it’s two empires coming together.”

Richard Eyre is directing, Matthew Bourne is the choreographer and the show is based not only on the Disney movie, but several of the stories by P. L. Travers. She can’t say much more than that. “I’m going to fly, but not in the way everyone is expecting,” she says. “We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

She hasn’t seen the movie since she was a kid, though that’s not because she hasn’t tried. “I attempted to watch it yesterday, but the video machine wouldn’t let me, so I took that as a sign.” Julie Andrews is a big hero of hers, though. “They say I’ll get to meet her.”

Bumming around New York, however, with her husband, Nick, whom she met while working on “Beauty and the Beast,” has been a joy. “I love the yellow cabs and the diners. I love sitting up on the bar with the chairs with the red circles. They have amazing food here — I’d never had waffles before. We love the buzz here.”

On Christmas, they went to see “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” “I was crying, I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I think that was the moment I realized what it meant to be in New York. It’s our dream.

“It’s amazing that I’ve been given this gift that I’m even here,” she adds. “I’ve got to stop using the word amazing, but there’s no other word to describe it.”

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