Every once in a while, actress and singer Ashley Brown catches a glimpse of herself and it throws her off-guard.
“There’s a huge billboard of my face in Times Square and I’ll just be walking around grocery shopping and be like, ‘That is unreal,’” said Brown.
On Thursday, Brown takes the stage at Strathmore, accompanied by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to perform selections from the Great White Way.
“I’m more at one with the symphony,” said Brown, who is best known for originating the role of everyone’s favorite nanny, Mary Poppins, on Broadway. At Thursday’s show, Brown will have a different view than what she’s used to.
“In a Broadway show, you maybe have a 20 to 30-piece orchestra ... I love being able to see who’s playing what part,” she said.
In November 2006, “Mary Poppins” opened on Broadway with Brown as the title character. She reprised the role in 2009 during the play’s U.S. national tour.
“There was definitely pressure, but [the producers] never said, ‘You need to be Julie Andrews,’” Brown said. “I knew I couldn’t be Julie Andrews being Mary Poppins. There’s no way you could recreate it.”
Instead of trying to imitate the legendary Andrews, Brown said she found a way to make the scenes and songs her own by doing what she’s always done: adding her own “Ashley twist.”
Growing up outside of Pensacola, Fla., Brown started singing in her church choir at the age of 6. The youngest of four children, Brown said she was always singing around the house, but never considered her talent to be “anything special.”
It wasn’t until high school that Brown said she realized her voice “wasn’t like everyone [else’s] in the choir.”
“I’m so fortunate that I have those moments of clarity and that I have those people who pushed me and supported me,” Brown said.
Brown attended the University of Cincinnati College of Conservatory Music. Just a week after graduation, she was cast as an up-and-coming musician in Disney’s musical revue, “On the Record.”
“They wanted someone nervous, inexperienced, young ... and that was me,” said Brown. “If they wanted a confident ... well-seasoned performer, I wouldn’t have gotten it.”
Since landing her first Broadway role in “On the Record,” Brown has continued to work closely with Disney, starring as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway in 2005.
“I grew up always watching Disney movies and loving them,” Brown said. “It almost took a while to sink in [when I got the role].”
In 2010, Brown released her debut album, “Speak Low,” a combination of American Songbook and arrangements of classical songs, but as always, with an added “Ashley twist.”
“Releasing an album is something I’ve always wanted to do ... [there] was a huge feeling of another thing being checked off my bucket list,” Brown said. “It was an accomplishment to think, ‘This is my album, how cool is that?’ ... It was just a dream come true.”
On Thursday, Brown will perform some songs from “Speak Low,” as well as popular Broadway tunes like “Make Someone Happy,” “Le Jazz Hot,” and from Mary Poppins, “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
Sometimes, when she listens to her own record, or sees her face on that billboard, Brown said she can’t believe everything she’s already accomplished.
“I couldn’t believe my dreams were coming true, so I had to come up with new dreams,” Brown said.
Among those new dreams: voicing an animated film and originating another role.
There is so much more I want to do,” Brown said.
But for now, the actress/singer is happy living in New York, performing and spending time with friends and family.
“I can’t complain,” said Brown. “I just hope ... to continue to have a happy life ... [that] all aspects of my life are well-balanced.”