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Meet the Musicians Who Made Mary Poppins Sing

photo credit: Jana Seitzer – WhiskeyandSunshine.com

It’s not very often that I leave a movie and immediately want to purchase its soundtrack, but that’s exactly what happened after I saw Mary Poppins Returns. As a huge musical fan, I can say without a doubt that this film has some tracks that are sure to be classics forever and ever.

Talking with the songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, I see why the music is so good. They are so fun and filled with joy for the characters, and that truly shines in the music. Find out more about the songs and the process creating them with the musicians who made Mary Poppins sing!

Meet the musicians who make Mary Poppins Returns sing

Did you find inspiration from the original score for the music you created?

Scott Wittman: Well, I think that we went back to the books and there were so many more adventures in all the stories. Some of them just cried out to be sung. Lin said it great. He said, “You know what’s great about it, is our movie rhymes with the first movie.” All the material was in the books. And then we had Emily and Lin. We had them right from the beginning. So we got to sculpt all this material on them.

But we knew we had it right so it sounded like it was in the same neighborhood of the first movie. And also the first movie was like our teacher. Was our parents. So you grow up with that. There’s gonna be something about what we wrote, that that would come from that. And would sound similar. 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.

What was your process for creating songs for the film?

Marc Shaiman: We had a great four months of working with Rob and his partner John and the screenwriter, David Magee. 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. Then we just pieced the movie scene by scene, figuring out where to put songs. How it would speak to what was going on. Or further what was going on.

And we would write songs and then we’d demo them. I’d sing them after we write them. We write the lyrics together, where we just phrase-associate with each other, for days until we have it all written down. And then I scotch tape all those phrases to the piano.

This movie was a whole other experience, though. Rob specifically hired us also because he knew I also score films. It’s a whole different kind of beast. Or muscle, to exercise. I also had to know that melodies for the songs could hopefully form a solid score. And not just sort of like a wisp of a melody here or there. But really, of real foundation. And luckily, Scott after we wrote, “Can You Image That?” Which was our fourth attempt at that, to write for that slot. Remember, it’s the first time Mary Poppins has sung on screen in 54 years. 

So we go back and we write another song. And after we wrote that one, Scott said, “Now remember, play it like score, also.” So besides singing it, a la Mary Poppins, I sat down and played it. And that’s what you hear as the main theme of the movie almost throughout. That more melancholy – if you slow it down and put slightly different chords to it, it creates a whole other atmosphere.

The film opens with the song (Underneath the) Lovely London Sky. How did that ballad come to be the first song in this movie?  

Marc ShaimanAt one point Rob Marshall (the director) thought that 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 we would sing. 

Then we wrote another song, and it was fun. I enjoyed singing it. Emily Blunt was coming down the hallway. She said, “What is that, what’s going on?” We said, “Come in, we’ll sing you this latest song.” And she like, “Hmmmmm.”  And she ran down the hall to where Rob was, and said, “You put that first song back at the beginning.That’s the first song I heard. It was the song that charmed me into wanting to be part of the movie. It’s about London, it’s – just put that first song in.”

She was the one with all the producers and directors and executives. She’s the one who just said, “That’s the one”. And Lin always loved that first song. He didn’t really know why we had cut it– although we knew why. As a writer for theater, he knows that sometimes you gotta do all that just to come back.

Want to listen to the music from Mary Poppins Returns for yourself? Get the soundtrack now on Amazon!

About Mary Poppins Returns

Here’s more about Mary Poppins Returns straight from the Disney studio:

In Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” an all new original musical and sequel, Mary Poppins is back to help the next generation of the Banks family find the joy and wonder missing in their lives following a personal loss. Emily Blunt stars as the practically-perfect nanny with unique magical skills who can turn any ordinary task into an unforgettable, fantastic adventure and Lin-Manuel Miranda plays her friend Jack, an optimistic street lamplighter who helps bring light—and life—to the streets of London.

“Mary Poppins Returns” is directed by Rob Marshall. The screenplay is by David Magee and the screen story is by Magee & Rob Marshall & John DeLuca based upon the Mary Poppins Stories by PL Travers.

Mary Poppins Returns arrives in theaters on December 19, 2018!