The original Broadway Mary Poppins brings Christmas concert to Weber State

The original Broadway Mary Poppins brings Christmas concert to Weber State

It’s a holiday performance that promises to be practically perfect in every way.

Vocalist/actress Ashley Brown, who originated the role of everyone’s favorite nanny in the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins,” comes to Ogden this week for a concert with the Utah Symphony.

“A Broadway Christmas with Ashley Brown” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, in the Browning Center at Weber State University, in Ogden. The concert is sponsored by Onstage Ogden.

It’s the same show Brown debuted last year at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops. Last year’s tour included the Atlanta Pops, the Cincinnati Pops and the National Symphony. This year’s stops include the Utah Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will be heavy on holiday favorites, with new takes on classic arrangements.

In a recent telephone interview with the Standard-Examiner, Brown said the concert will be a mix of both heartfelt songs/memories and “just plain fun, sing-along good times.”

“My goal — and I think why the show is successful — is it’s a mix of the songs that make you feel and reminisce,” Brown said. “You have these musical memories that bring you back to specific moments in your life. I think that’s why people respond to these songs at the holidays, and why they don’t get sick of them. It’s so much fun to bring you back to the ‘kid days.’”

Along with the Utah Symphony, Brown will be joined onstage by the Salt Lake City-based Madeleine Choir School.

“This concert uses the orchestra so beautifully, and we have a big choir with us, too,” Brown said.

A personal highlight for Brown will be a medley of holiday hits by the likes of Mariah Carey, the Beatles and Dolly Parton.

“When I was putting this show together, I said I wanted something for Carnegie Hall that these walls have never heard,” Brown said. “It’s what I call a ‘guilty pleasure medley.’”

This will be Brown’s debut with the Utah Symphony.

Brown found her love of music at an early age, singing in church in her home town of Gulf Breeze, Florida.

“Church is where I found my voice,” she says.

Brown has a particular affinity for the song “O Holy Night,” which she sang every Christmas Eve at church, starting from the time she was just 6 or 7 years old.

“It became a tradition, and I continue to love singing that song,” she said. “In fact, whenever I’m able to be home in Gulf Breeze, Florida, for Christmas Eve, I still sing it there. And it’s the same people in the same pews — I’m literally turning into a kid again.”

Brown is the only one in her family with any musical ability, so the idea of singing on Broadway always felt like a long shot.

“In my little town, we didn’t know anybody on Broadway, so it was just a dream,” Brown said. “Nobody in my family can sing or is musical — I came out of left field.”

She calls her current profession a “dream come true.”

“Since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to do this,” she said.

Of course, even dreams aren’t without their sacrifices. While Brown insists that Thanksgiving is the one time she doesn’t travel and stays home with the family — the calm before the storm of holiday concerts, she calls it — the singer pretty much lives in airports and hotels during December. It’s a stressful time, filled with potential weather-related travel delays and the constant specter of a crippling winter virus for a woman who makes her living with her voice.

“It’s a lot of deep-breathing for me in December,” Brown concedes.

She carries plenty of vitamins and medicines with her, and admits that she’s something of a health nut.

“If I could wrap myself in bubble wrap, with just one hole to breathe, I’d do it,” she said. “I’m such a germophobe — wandering around the airport with my disinfectant wipes.”

But Brown believes that vigilance has paid off. She’s been “very lucky” not to have gotten sick during these tours.

“Of course, I’m also one of those people you’d have to put me on a stretcher and I’d still go out there and take a shot at it,” she confesses.

So, what has this mother of a toddler learned from her Broadway role as ultimate child-care guru Mary Poppins? Any tricks that she uses at home?

“Mary Poppins has a line, ‘I never explain anything,’” Brown said. “So when my 3-year-old asks ‘why-why-why-why,’ I say ‘Because I said so.’ That can be an OK answer. I love how Mary Poppins is unapologetically who she is: I know who I am, and I’m a good person — take it or leave it.”

So, when Brown is at home, does her daughter get a famous Broadway actress singing her to sleep?

“Always, always, always,” Brown sajd. “But it’s all she’s known, so she doesn’t think it’s that great. It’s just, like, ‘There goes mom again.’ She’s immune to it.”

Often, Brown will practice singing lyrics for a show in which she’s been cast to her daughter at bedtime.

Of course, sometimes that doesn’t work.

“I was singing some Sondheim song, and I’m sure my daughter was, like, ‘Oh, please. Give it a rest,’” she recalls. “But I remember the song mentioned death, and I thought ‘Maybe this isn’t the best choice for a bedtime song.’”

Brown recently released as eight-song CD, “The Secret of Christmas,” that will be available, for $5, at Thursday’s concert.

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