Ashland High grad to take over lead in 'Mary Poppins'

Broadway's "Mary Poppins" will soon have a new leading nanny — all the way from Ashland.

Producers said Thursday that Steffanie Leigh, a 2006 graduate of Ashland High School, will make her Broadway debut in the title role beginning Oct. 11. She'll be taking over from Laura Michelle Kelley, who originated the role.

Leigh has spent the last eight months playing the umbrella-wielding nanny on a North American tour of the hit musical — including a run in Portland earlier this summer.

In a July interview with the Mail Tribune, Leigh said that her youth spent in a theater-driven community had a profound influence on her career decisions.

"Growing up in such a small town that loves the arts and has an incredible theater is rare," Leigh said. "By high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue this as a career."

Leigh joined the "Mary Poppins" tour in June 2010 as an ensemble member and understudy for Mary Poppins, but never imagined she would get to take on the role herself full time.

When actress Caroline Sheen decided to leave the show in February, Leigh was able to audition and win the part. "It was a pretty long audition process," she recalled. "When I finally got it, I was relieved, and excited, and a little nervous."

The Carnegie Mellon University graduate's regional theater credits include "Into the Woods" and "Beauty and the Beast."

"Mary Poppins," co-produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, is based on both the children's books by P.L. Travers and the beloved 1964 movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

The Broadway musical opened in 2006, two years after debuting in London.

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