When I wrote last week about my experience at the Mary Poppins Returns World Premiere and after-party, I mentioned that one of my highlights of the evening was talking with “Mary Poppins Returns” composer Marc Shaiman. He has written for so many top-notch films, TV and theater (and has the Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards, along with Oscar nominations to prove it), including one of my all-time favorite TV shows, “Smash“.
At the party we talked about his work on Mary Poppins Returns with fellow composer Scott Wittman (as well as a bit about his new project bringing “Some Like it Hot” to broadway as a musical and how it will have some updates for the modern day.)
BUT, earlier that day I got to meet with both Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman to discuss the music of Mary Poppins Returns and how the created those memorable songs we are all going to be singing for decades!
Getting Started on the Music of Mary Poppins Returns
Every musical score has to start somewhere and Marc said, “when we first sat down to write, we had a great four months of working with Rob and his partner John (DeLuca) and the screenwriter, David Magee, where we really start from the beginning of the movie. They had had the idea that it would be about Michael Banks, a recent widower. And that would be the crux of what’s going on. And then we just pieced the movie scene by scene. And figuring out where to put a song and how it would speak to what was going on or further what was going on.”
Scott explained that all that was, “even before we wrote a word.” Marc commented “That was fantastic, because you only have to talk about it. We did that like in autumn, through Christmas. And then after New Year’s, it was time for us to go in the room and write. And,” he joked, “we just sit for four days and just sing,♩♪♫ Paralyzed with Fear♩♪♫…. ”
The Source of the Music
“Well, I think that we went back to the books,” said Scott. “There were so many more adventures in all the stories. And so some of them just cried out to be sung. Lin said it well. He said, ‘You know what’s great about it, is our movie rhymes with the first movie.’ And that’s a huge compliment, too. But all the material was in the books.”
“Then we had Emily and Lin and we had them right from the beginning, so we got to sculpt all this material around them. Also the first movie was like our teacher, was our parents. So you grow up with that, so there’s going to be something about what we wrote, that would come from that and would sound similar. We never tried to and you can’t try to copy or even write something that’s so close, that it will only make us pale in comparison. And yet we couldn’t help but find ourselves in the Mary Poppins vernacular, musically and lyrically.
The “Richard Sherman Approval”
Richard Sherman is half of the iconic Sherman Brothers, the duo who wrote more musical song scores than any other songwriting team in history, including the score for the original Mary Poppins. Richard Sherman served as a consultant for Mary Poppins Returns.
Scott said that working with Mr. Sherman “was heaven. I mean, that was really heaven. And then last week, we got to spend a whole day with him. “The glorious part,” said Marc “was that he loved our movie so much and that he really felt like it was in good hands. And that in some way, he said to us that the baton had been passed. And I got right up in his face, to see if it was like when you’re playing poker and someone has a tell. He was like, ‘Are you blind?’ And I was like, ‘you really seemed sincere’.” Scott added, “His wife was there. She would never let him tell a lie.” Marc shared, “It was the greatest compliment we could have ever ever gotten. The way he looked at us and talked to us and treated us as – I wouldn’t say equals, but worthy at least to be in the room with him.”
(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky
The very first song in Mary Poppins Returns is Lovely London Sky, sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda) and there was a lot of pressure on the composers to make it a good one. “With the first song” said Scott, “they kept saying, ‘We gotta deliver Lin-Manuel’ and I sort of felt like a midwife.”
Marc said this was actually the first song they wrote. “At one point Rob said there should be no music until Mary Poppins arrives. No songs. But we felt that Lin’s character, although he’s not magical, he can’t create the magic, he believes it. He’s a believer. So we thought he would sing. But it is the Depression and it’s stormy. We were influenced by a great duo back then called Flanagan and Allen. They wrote songs like ‘Under The Arches’ and songs about the common man loving his life, not being worried about riches and just being happily, him and his family.” Scott continued “When he says “Lovely London sky” he’s actually thinking about a gray sky.
The Song that Was Cut from Mary Poppins Returns
Not every song Marc and Scott wrote ended up in the movie. Scott explained, “It was interesting with Richard Sherman, because in the first movie, they had musicalized a sequence that got cut. And we tried to musicalize the same sequence. And it got cut.” Marc said “It was about when Mary Poppins’ birthday falls on a full moon, the animals in the zoo become the spectators and the humans are in the cages. So we wrote a song called, ‘The Anthropomorphic Zoo’ and the Sherman brothers wrote a song called ‘The Chimpanzoo’. Both got cut.”
Buy the Mary Poppins Returns Soundtrack
You will LOVE the Mary Poppins Returns Soundtrack. There are so many songs from the movie that I just can’t keep from humming throughout the day. My personal favorites are the upbeat songs like “Can You Imagine That?”, “A Cover Is Not the Book” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic”, but the entire score is amazing. You can order or download the Mary Poppins Returns Soundtrack HERE.
Mary Poppins Returns Soundtrack Track Listing
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