Ashley Brown burst onto the Broadway scene in 2005, making her New York stage debut as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. She followed that up with the high-flying title role in Mary Poppins, soaring over the packed New Amsterdam Theatre nightly in a display of sheer theatrical magic and earning a 2007 Drama Desk Award nomination. Since then, the singing actress has found a prosperous career as a concert performer, singing with the likes of the Boston Pops and the New York Philharmonic.
Brown currently stars as the widow Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly! at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, a production that has received unanimously rave reviews. When that runs ends on September 14, she'll begin planning her next venture, a holiday concert for December 19 and 20 at Carnegie Hall. Brown also addresses the speculation about a revival of Songs for a New World, based on the one-night-only concert production in which she starred late last year. If it happens, hopefully the lights will stay on.
Were you familiar with Hello, Dolly! before you started rehearsals?
I did it as a freshman in high school. I was in the ensemble. I played Ermengarde in college, and here I am a few years later playing Irene Molloy. I never thought Hello, Dolly! would be such a big part of my life. Finding the humor has meant something to me all the different times that I've done it. You relate to different things at different ages.
How do you feel like you relate to Irene?
She's just ready to have an adventure. I remember feeling like that when I was just getting out of high school and wanting to move to the City and break out and do something. I think I'm still that kind of personality. Every day I'm like, "What can I do? I'm ready for a new adventure." I relate to her in that way.
You're very lucky that you get to work in East Haddam at this time of year. That view of the Opera House overlooking the water when you start crossing that bridge—
It's so gorgeous up here. I had to miss the first day; I was doing Oklahoma! at the Chicago Lyric Opera, [so] I missed the day where they give the tour of the [Goodspeed] Opera House and the welcome dinner. I rolled up into the first day of rehearsal, it was seven in the morning, and I was like "Where am I?" I've fallen in love — it's so different from the City. I even picked up a book for the first time and just chilled. I don't remember the last time I had time to pick up a book. It was nice to sit out on the lawn, take a breath, and do what I love to do.
What's coming up when Dolly closes?
I'm doing my solo show at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops on December 19 and 20. My solo career is what I've been focused on for the past two years. I love going out there and just being Ashley, singing with seventy pieces. I've been so lucky to be able to travel all over the country and sing like me, talk like me, act like me. Sometimes, as an actor, that can be really refreshing. I got the call almost nine months ago that they wanted to pick up my show for Carnegie Hall and I was beside myself. After [Hello, Dolly!], I'm gonna start plugging away on [Carnegie Hall], because there's a lot of new material. They're calling it Under the Mistletoe with Ashley Brown.
Is anything happening with Songs for a New World? I know there was some speculation after that one-night-only concert you did last year.
It's funny that you ask. I got an e-mail a couple days ago that said possibly yes. We're really wanting to. I think we're trying to get some more financial people behind us to do something. There was some interest with doing something in London, and maybe Chicago…I'm keeping my fingers so crossed that it'll happen.
Hopefully, the power will stay on this time.
That was horrible! We handled it the way you just have to handle it. [Director] Jeff Calhoun was just like, "You get your asses up there and we're gonna start talking to people." We were there all day, didn't have one issue, and then showtime, it's just dead. We're like "What do you mean we don't know how to fix it?" [laughs] We were all kinds of helpless. As a performer, when you are set and you think you're about to go on, and you're told you're not, that's fine; that's happened before. But not being able to know when you're going on? We were on standby for almost an hour and a half. By the end of that night, I was exhausted. I was in performance mode for a really long time. I couldn't let myself get nervous, or the show wouldn't have been good.
What were the nerves like when you flew as Mary Poppins for the first time?
I flew [for the first time] maybe two weeks before we opened for previews, and they were so good about it. They took me up a little bit at a time. But at that point, I had no room in my heart or head to be nervous, because I had so much going on. Just take me up — if this is the way I'm supposed to go, I'll go. [Laughs]
It was such an amazing opportunity to be a part of…Every day, I wake up and pinch myself. I'm so thankful for the opportunities I've had. In this business, you gotta soak it up. It's easy for everything to go by so fast and be an out of body experience. Some parts of Poppins I'll look back on and it's such a blur. Then, finally towards the end, I stopped and smelled the roses, and enjoyed it. It flies by, I'm telling ya!