Broadway’s Analisa Leaming Celebrates the Holidays on Long Island as Mary Poppins
By Iris Wiener
No one gets inside the cheeful spirit of titular nanny Mary Poppins quite like Analisa Leaming. The star of John W. Engeman Theater’s holiday show has not only played Mary in a previous production of Mary Poppins at Kansas City Starlight Theatre, but she has also stepped into the shoes of Maria in The Sound of Music (another role
made famous by Julie Andrews…in case you are keeping count!). After a 2016 that
saw her first leading role as Anna Leonowens in Broadway’s The King and Iand her current foray as Mary, she’ll be working on Broadway again in 2017 with the cast of Hello Dolly!, led by Bette Midler. She spoke with Theaterlife.com about playing
Mary at the most magical time of the year.
How does one go from growing up in Tennessee to The King and I and Hello Dolly! on Broadway?
I actually trained in opera and classical singing, but my heart was always in musical theatre. I moved to New York City, and since being there I made my Broadway debut in On the Twentieth Century with Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher. It was such
a fun show. Directly following that I stepped into The King and I and was standing by for Kelli O’Hara all last year.
In between her leaving the show and Marin Mazzie taking over, I got to step
into the role for a few weeks; it was a dream. I’ve also done a couple of
tours, like The Sound of Music and Annie and aton of regional stuff. When I did Mary Poppins last summer in Kansas, the theatre sat 8,000 people. It
was a blast, but coming to the Engeman Theater is especially fun, because now I
get to play the show in a much more intimate house. It really changes it.
What is your first memory of Mary Poppins?
We had taped the movie from TV on a VHS, and we wore
it out. I remember watching that VHS over and over because I can remember the
commercial breaks- there was a Dimetapp commercial after “Jolly Holiday.” I
think “Jolly Holiday” stands out to me the most because I loved when the
characters would step into the painting, and I loved the mixture of cartoon and
real life. I think that had a very big impact on me.
What were your first thoughts upon donning the iconic Mary Poppins costume?
Julie Andrews has always been one of my greatest role
models, between Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, so getting to do
both shows have been complete dreams. They’re both nannies, or governesses if
you will, but they’re also so different. Maria is more free-spirited and
childlike, and Mary is kind of the opposite of that. The costumes definitely
help inform that- the high neck, the bowtie, the hat, carrying that
parrot-headed umbrella around…they inform your choices and your mannerisms. I
get compared to Julie Andrews all the time, which is one of the biggest
Why do you think Mary Poppins has withstood the test of time?
She’s a hero. She has these supernatural powers! She
can fly, and she can make all sorts of magical things happen. Everybody loves
the idea of having this hero outside of themselves. What I love about Mary
Poppins is that she really doesn’t make things happen for this family. She just
kind of shows up and guides them, and they end up finding themselves. That’s an
ultimate lesson in life, that we really do have the power within us. I think we
all love this idea of imagination and magic.
Who makes the better babysitter: Analisa or Mary Poppins?
If you talked to kids I babysit, they would probably tell you you I’m like Mary Poppins- minus the magic, of course. I can have that stern
quality, but there’s always a bit of a glimmer in my eye. To me, that’s totally
her. I had somebody say to me, “She’s so strict and stern!” I said, “Yeah, but
if you really listen to the lines, she’s smiling behind every one of them
because she knows they’re funny.” She’s got a lot of humor. So fine, I guess
Mary is better because she’s got the magic. That’s what a kid would say!
What is your first memory of yourself as a performer?
I have a lot of cousins, so at all of the family
gatherings I would gather everybody and I would put on a play. I would direct
everybody, but of course, I would star in the shows too. We would just make the
plays up. I was writer, director, and star. That is so embarrassing. My cousins
would always tell me how bossy I was. I’ll go back and watch a family video and
I’ll just cringe.
Your name is so unique. How did your parents decide on it?
They saw it in a magazine, but it was a very German
spelling so they adapted it to be a little easier for most people to read or
pronounce. They just loved it. Growing up I was called Annie, and then I got to
college and I was like, “Wait, I kind of like Analisa. Let’s do that!”
Is performing in Mary Poppins at John W. Engeman Theater your first time on Long Island?
It is, and it’s really nice. The town of Northport is so sweet. There are a lot of great restaurants and cute little shops to spend time at between shows. It’s lovely. As for the theatre, it’s intimate so everybody an see me sweat! Getting to perform in that kind of space allows you to be just a little bit more grounded in reality because you’re not trying to reach people in the fiftieth row. This story has some big spectacular moments, like the flying and big production numbers like “Step in Time,” but there’s a lot of
really sweet scenes and it’s really fun to get to lean into those in this
theatre. People are very close, they get to see a lot.
What was the most surprising experience that you have had while working on Broadway?
I started in The King and I as a standby for Kelli O’Hara. The first time I went on for her,
I didn’t have any notice. It was wild! When I did my first show, I had never
had a full rehearsal. Kelli called out around 11am on a Saturday, so I was
going on for the 2pm matinee. I had never worn the dresses on the stage or
anything. It was a crazy time. Luckily, I did my work and I knew the role
inside and out at that point. These regional gigs are quick rehearsal
processes, but once you do something like that, you can do anything! When they
say, “You have twelve days to put up Mary Poppins…” Now it’s no sweat! It’s a luxury.
How did you feel about the way the show went when you went on for Kelli?
I felt really good because I have a couple of dear friends that have done a lot of understudying on Broadway. One of the things
they told me is that your first time is such a blur, and that in some ways it’s
pretty miserable because you’re so terrified, but just to accept it. I thought,
I don’t want that to be my experience. I want to have the time of my life. I don’t want to be miserable. So I think I was actually quite present, and I really did just have a ball. After that maybe I got in my head a little more from time to time, but that first one I
was like, “I’m starring on Broadway! What more can you ask for?”
Tell us about your podcast, “A Balancing Act.” How does it speak to people about other aspect of being an entertainer?
I’m really fascinated in the mental, spiritual, and emotional
side of this business and working with actors because it’s such an emotional
rollercoaster. I think it’s really important to keep a dialogue and have
constant uplifting conversations, and it helps people realize that they’re not
alone. When a show closes, so many of us are like, “I’ll never work again!” You
think you’re so alone in that. I decided to start a podcast in which I have interviewed
people like Rebecca Luker and Mara Davi, and have had really wonderful, enriching
conversations. Several of the ensemble kids in Mary Poppins were like, “I listen to your podcast, I love it!” You can find it on iTunes.
For more information about Mary Poppins visit www.EngemanTheater.com.
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Her work appears on Playbill.com and in TheaterMania, Long Island Woman and Long Island Herald, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Iris_Wiener [https://twitter.com/Iris_Wiener] or visit her at IrisWiener.com.