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‘Poppins’ tuner taps a Mary

Kelly opens brolly for Mouse

NEW YORK — Disney and Cameron Mackintosh have finally landed their high-flying nanny: Laura Michelle Kelly will play the role of “Mary Poppins” in the new musical stage version of P.L. Travers books.

After weeks of speculation, the producers made it official: Kelly opens their show at London’s Prince Edward Theater Dec. 15. An eight-week tryout is set for the Hippodrome in Bristol.

Kelly first auditioned for the role in September. Not that the 22-year-old Brit is a stranger to Disney or Mackintosh: Her London debut came at age 16 in “Beauty and the Beast.”

More recently, she starred opposite Anthony Andrews in Mackintosh’s London revival of “My Fair Lady.”

Mackintosh and Disney’s Thomas Schumacher described what they wanted in their legit Poppins:

“We dreamed of finding an actress who was on the brink of stardom, but not yet associated by the public with a particular role, and would be in her mid-20s as envisaged by Pamela Travers.”

The author was never a big fan of Disney’s 1964 film version, which she found too sweet.

Kelly could offer a warmer portrait than Julie Andrews, who nabbed an Oscar for her efforts. London critics found Kelly’s portrayal of Eliza Doolittle, a role Andrews created on Broadway, an especially sexy creature.

Kelly said she had seen the film, “when I was a child. And I won’t see it again until I’ve finished the ‘Mary Poppins’ run. I don’t want to pick up any Julie Andrews-isms.”

“Mary Poppins” is expected to cross the Atlantic in time for Broadway’s 2005-06 season. If the powers like what they see in London, it is expected that Kelly will reprise her magical nanny for Gotham.

Kelly makes her Broadway debut long before that, however, with the Feb. 26 opening of revival “Fiddler on the Roof,” in which she plays Hodel.

“Mary Poppins” marks the first partnership for Mackintosh and Disney. Mackintosh held the stage rights to the Travers books, Disney owned the movie songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have written new songs and additional music for the stage version.

“Mary Poppins” will be directed by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne; latter also choreographs.

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