Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top of the Poppins; at 23, Laura Michelle Kelly Has Already Starred in My Fair Lady and Mamma Mia! Now She Looks Set for Stardom as Mary Poppins in the New West End Production. Rachel Halliburton Meets Her

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Top of the Poppins; at 23, Laura Michelle Kelly Has Already Starred in My Fair Lady and Mamma Mia! Now She Looks Set for Stardom as Mary Poppins in the New West End Production. Rachel Halliburton Meets Her

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL HALLIBURTON

Laura Michelle Kelly is drawing colourful flowers on the whiteboard in the room where I meet her at Sadler's Wells. 'I wanted to make the room look prettier,' she declares sunnily.

'I thought it was a bit boring before.' So far, so Mary Poppins, but it would be a mistake to dismiss Kelly as a sweet young thing. You don't end up playing leading roles in six major West End productions and one Broadway production by the age of 23 without the kind of determination that would make a raging bull think twice before challenging you to a fight.

Nor do you land the title role in the hottest musical to be created for the London stage in years, after turning down Andrew Lloyd Webber's offer for you to sing the lead in The Woman In White.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Kelly seems more excited than nervous at the prospect of adopting the airborne shoes of Julie Andrews's Mary Poppins. On current evidence, she has every right to be confident: the eightweek run of the production in Bristol received standing ovations nightly and the London run has already taken well over [pounds sterling]10 million in advance bookings. She talks enthusiastically about the 'incredible relationships' that have been developed for the show between several giants in the theatre world. Cameron Mackintosh is co-producing with Disney; film director and former artistic-director of the National Theatre Richard Eyre is co-directing with leading choreographer Matthew Bourne; George Stiles and Anthony Drew have added to and updated songs from the Sherman Brothers' score; and the Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes has radically revitalised the story by returning to the original books by P.L.

Travers. Is it really true that there has been no clash of the theatrical titans in the rehearsal room? She smiles. 'Oh no,' she replies without a trace of irony, 'there've been no egos at all'.

Mackintosh and Fellowes are keen to celebrate Mary as she first appeared in the books - a more eccentric and spiky creature than the movie creation.

Kelly asserts that 'Julie Andrews brought a sweetness to the role, which I hope not to get rid of, but the books also give a sense of the tough love that was needed'. She says she knows all about giving out tough love: 'I've got three brothers, and I seem to tell them what to do all the time. I'm the second eldest, but I'm the only girl, so I'm very motherly to them and tell them what's what.' There is a poignancy to this last statement, because Kelly lost her mother to breast cancer in the summer of 2003. Rather than taking time out, she immersed herself in work, performing in My Fair Lady by night and rushing down to Lloyd Webber's place in the country to workshop The Woman In White by day. 'I was all over the place,' she says. …

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