Mary Poppins Says Hello to Isabel!
By Isa Goldberg
Having just been startled by the larger-than-life Mary Poppins, I was enchanted to meet the Olivier Award-winning actress who reprises the role on Broadway. Somewhat diminutive and astonishingly beautiful, Laura Michelle Kelly radiates a spellbinding charm.
Q: I took my 6-year-old granddaughter, Isabel, to the matinee on Sunday. When the children came on stage she said, “Those can’t be children. They must be people who were shrunk.” What is it really like to work with the children in “Mary Poppins”?
A: I don’t have children of my own yet, so the kids are my favorite thing – and not just the kids on stage. When I’m flying out, I see how much they want to be noticed, and when Mary Poppins picks them out of the audience they can see that I see them.
Q: One of my favorite scenes is the one with the Bird Lady, when Mr. Banks throws her “twopence”. It’s at that moment – anticipating that he is about to get fired – that this wonderful transformation occurs.
A: I have secrets when I’m on stage that nobody knows. My secret is that the Bird Lady is someone Mary Poppins has known for hundreds of years, but she only sees her once in a blue moon. In my secret the Bird Lady was here 40 years ago when Mr. Banks was a kid. Now she’s returning to help him again.
But the bird woman always reminds me so much of my singing teacher.
Q: At what point in your life did you meet her?
A: When I was 11. I grew up on a farm on the Isle of Wight. But to me, my voice teacher was like my nanna. And I lost her last year; she died in March.
Q: You grew up on a farm and at 17 you went to London to understudy a role in “Beauty and the Beast”.
A: When I was on the farm my brothers and I got involved in entertaining the elderly people down the road. We would just put on shows. Eventually I got involved in amateur dramatic societies. But I never imagined you ever get paid for it. I just did it for fun.
Q: It certainly looks like you do, but your experience, winding up in London at a very young age, exemplifies Mary Poppin’s credo, “Anything Can Happen”.
A: True. And I tell that to every child I meet who says they want to be an actor. First of all, I tell them they have to do another job as well so that they have that freedom. And second of all I say, “Anything Can Happen”. Because I know as children we thought the only way you could become an actor is by going to a stage school, and my family could not have afforded that.
Q: How did you find the gumption to audition for “Beauty and the Beast”?
A: It was in the newspaper. I remember the morning of the audition there was a wild storm. The waves were huge and my dad said, ‘we’re not going’. But I just really wanted to go to London and do an audition on a big stage, so I convinced him. When we made it to the theater we were number 1,200, or something.
Q: Are there any other projects that you can talk about?
A: I am doing a movie really soon in Australia. I’m playing one of the leads so I’m a little bit nervous. But it’s going to be really exciting.
Q: Can you tell us the name of the movie?
A: It’s a working title so it may change, but it’s an original musical comedy.
Mary Poppins performs at the New Amsterdam Theatre at 214 West 42nd St. For tickets call 866-870-2717, go to www. ti