Disney invited me to attend the #MaryPoppinsReturnsEvent, this interview with songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is a result of the trip. The opinions expressed here are my own. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman spoke with us about the process of writing songs and the score for Mary Poppins Returns. I am sharing fun facts about the making of music in Mary Poppins Returns. Before I do that though, consider heading over to check out the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack on Amazon. I’ve been streaming it for over a week now, the music is truly lovely!
Richard Sherman Approved
Richard Sherman loved their (Marc and Scott) movies and felt like Mary Poppins Returns was in good hands. He said that in some way, the baton had been passed to them. Ricard’s wife was there and wouldn’t let him lie, 😉 so Marc and Scott are confident he was being sincere.
Marc: But you know, it was the greatest compliment we could have 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.
Staying within the Mary Poppins Vernacular
Scott: We knew we had it right when it sounded like it was in the same neighborhood of the first movie. And also the first movie was like our teacher or our parents. So you grow up with that and there’s gonna be something about what we wrote that could come from that. And would sound similar, and we never tried to copy or even write something that’s so close that it would only make us pale in comparison. And yet we couldn’t help but find our selves in the Mary Poppins vernacular, musically and lyrically.
Anthropomorphic Zoo and The Chimpanzoo
Scott: 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 (too).
Marc: 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. The Sherman brothers wrote a song called, The Chimpanzoo.
It only got cut (from Mary Poppins Returns) because the animated sequence would be too long and expensive.
Can You Imagine That was the most challenging song
Can You Imagine That, was most challenging because they wrote so many versions of it. And it was the first time Mary Poppins had sung on screen in 54 years, it had to be perfect. The song becomes Mary’s theme in the movie and you hear it as the main theme throughout the movie, slowing it down and putting slight different chords to create a whole other atmosphere.
Marc: First we tried to write songs that were more in the style of English dance bands of the early ’30s. And we thought it’d be fun if Mary Poppins had a touch of current sound, for the ’30s. It was a fun song and they even started rehearsing it but that’s when someone said, “You know what, we love the song, and yet when we say the title, we don’t sing it.”
Why Lin-Manuel Miranda sings the first song
Marc: So the first song we wrote is the one that’s in the movie. And at one point Rob though 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 magic, he believes it. He’s a believer, so we thought he would sing and he should welcome us in the movie.
Who chose the version of Lovely London Sky in the movie
Marc: After they kept saying “Is it gonna deliver Lin-Manuel”? So we wrote a second song, with a little more energy. And then a third song and by the time we were in England, rehearsing, we were still writing and we wrote the fifth song. And it was fun, I enjoyed singing it. And then Emily Blunt was coming down the hallway. And she said, “What is that, what’s going on?” We said, Come in, we’ll you sing the latest version and she was like, “Hmm.” And she ran down the hall to where Rob was and said “You put that first song in, that’s the first song I heard and it was the song that charmed me into wanting to be part of the long. It’s about London, just put that first song in.”
Mary Poppins Returns opens in theaters TODAY!!!