Once 'crazy shy,' Vernon Hills actress takes center stage in Drury Lane's 'Mary Poppins'

Emilie Lynn was about 2 years old when her mom heard her singing along with a Beatles song on the radio.

Cute, right?

But here's the thing: She was singing the harmony, not the melody.

And that's when her mom thought — no, she knew — her daughter might have a special talent.

It would take Emilie a little longer to realize her mom was right.

‘Crazy shy'

You wouldn't know it to watch Emilie Lynn on stage this holiday season in the title role of “Mary Poppins” at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, but she was “crazy shy” as a child

“Growing up I was very shy and insecure,” the Vernon Hills actress says. “I didn't want to sing in front of people.”

But her mom urged her to take voice lessons when Emilie was around 5, and the budding singer later joined her middle school choir.

When she got to Vernon Hills High School, she began to feel more comfortable singing in front of people, and she not only continued in choir but started performing in musicals, too.

Her passion for theater began to solidify as she discovered she could melt into different roles. It wasn't her up there singing, it was someone else.

“As a shy kid, getting to be someone else was easier,” Lynn says now. “It was also about getting to touch people's lives through theater.”

While attending College of Lake County, she began studying opera, theater and dance while still performing in musicals. Her adviser told her it was time to choose between opera and theater.

Lynn chose neither.

She decided instead to work a desk job and set aside her dreams for three years. But when her cousin, also an actress, gave Lynn's name to a director for a local show, she decided to take a chance.

It seems to have worked out.

‘The bug hit again'

Lynn's musical theater career has spanned nearly 20 shows and one international tour.

Area theatergoers may have seen her in “Les Miserables” or “Sound of Music” at Drury Lane, or perhaps “Miss Saigon” or “Hair” at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

“After my first show back, the bug just hit again,” she says.

She began to regularly audition and her husband, Jesse Lynn, encouraged her to quit her job and pursue theater full-time.

Lynn landed a local role in “Beauty and the Beast,” but once again her journey did not go as planned. One short year after she quit her job, her new agent had her audition as Christine for the leading role in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Lynn played the part on-and-off from 2012 through 2016, traveling around the world.

But after her “life-changing experience” in the show, she struggled to find other opportunities. She took that as a sign her life was about to change direction again.

Before “Poppins,” her most recent role was as a mom.

Scratching the itch

Lynn was married for seven years when the couple decided to start a family.

With two daughters, Penelope Joy, now 3, and Julietta Belle, 1½, she took a four-year break from acting and singing to focus on her family.

But then the itch returned.

“I knew I was ready to go back at the beginning of this year,” she says. “I was ready to have that part of myself back.”

Now, in the first show since her sabbatical, she's playing the lead in a story beloved by generations of kids and families.

“I was thrilled and scared to go back,” she says. “I had a lot of emotions.”

She originally planned to audition to play Winifred Banks, but director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge nixed that.

Lynn, she says, was better suited to play Mary.

“If I believe it in my gut, I go with it,” Dodge says. “Emilie has never once gone on stage and given less than her best.”

Dodge says she admires Lynn's dedication and attitude.

“She really is a ‘take one for the show' kind of performer,” Dodge says. “And it's rare. She checks her ego at the door.”

She also has a sense of humor. Check her website and under her list of other talents — along with the ability to sing in many languages — she mentions she's adept at Hula-Hooping and “can burp on command.”

Still, rehearsing eight hours a day with an hourlong commute has become a balancing act for Lynn, especially with her two young daughters.

“I feel a little guilty, but I don't have any down time to think about it,” she says.

Mom and actress

Lynn says her role as a mother has enhanced her acting, and she finds it easy to share her passion with her children. Her oldest daughter loves musicals, especially “The Wizard of Oz,” and Lynn sings to her before bed each night.

And, of course, some of that motherly character comes out on stage as she interacts with the show's two child actors.

“Working with kids is incredible and challenging,” she says. “Now that I have my own, I find it different this time. I definitely feel a little like a momma bear.”

Lynn says she's excited to throw herself into a role that requires some serious stamina and the ability to navigate some tricky choreography.

“Not once has Emilie ever asked to modify the dancing,” Dodge says. “She really is the definition of a triple threat.”

And, of course, this being “Mary Poppins,” Lynn also gets to fly.

Not a bad gig for a “crazy shy” kid.

• • •

Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's “Mary Poppins”

When: Performances run through Jan. 19, 2020

Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Tickets: $75. (630) 530-0111 or

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