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Leigh takes Mary to new heights

Ashland actress flies into musical challenge of 'Poppins' role
by: © 2011 Disney The world’s most famous nanny will visit Keller
Auditorium June 22 — July 10 to perform in Broadway Across America’s “Mary Poppins,” starring Ashland High School grad Steffanie Leigh.

The word is 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,' meaning 'atoning for educability through delicate beauty.'

In sing-songy fashion, it has become synonymous with the movie and musical 'Mary Poppins.'

Easy to say, once you learn it.

Then again, Mary in the 'Mary Poppins' musical coming to the Keller Auditorium stage June 22 to July 10 has to not only sing it, she has to spell it and do hand movements for each letter - and say the word backwards.

'I listened to the CD a whole lot before I joined the tour,' muses Steffanie Leigh, the Talent native and Ashland High grad who's enjoying her first professional gig in the role as 'Mary' in the touring musical.

But, Leigh, who turns 24 on June 16, has pulled off the performance, drawing fine reviews since becoming 'Mary' earlier this year. With audience members surely fixed on the fact that Julie Andrews made the role famous in the 1964 movie, Leigh has been challenged to play the world's most famous nanny in her own way.

'To keep up the energy for eight shows a week is the most challenging,' says Leigh, who lives in New York City. 'She's on the stage for the majority of the show. She's such a character that has such a huge amount of energy, and has to be perfect the whole time. I have to be in prime mental, physical and emotional state.'

Nicolas Dromard, the original affable chimney sweep 'Bert,' has worked with six different actors portraying 'Mary.'

'She's amazing, she's a professional,' he says of Leigh. 'A joy to work with her. You have to have a certain flair (to play 'Mary') - tender, yet stern. You have to be perfect.'

Leigh, who will play 'Mary' in the Broadway musical later this year, struck gold upon graduating in 2009 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. She auditioned for the part, and got hired as an understudy in June 2010. 'Just like that, my life was upside down and I was on the 'Mary Poppins' tour,' she says.

When the previous 'Mary' departed, Leigh auditioned again, and got the lead role.

'To be able to play the role as an understudy gave me so much more confidence in my audition. To be able to play it at my age is huge - very generous of everyone with the creative team that they trusted me,' she says.

'Mary Poppins' has some new characters, songs and plot twists, blending with the story from the famous movie.

Leigh played sports growing up in Ashland, but focused on theater in middle school, being influenced by Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival.