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Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman Create Music Magic In Mary Poppins Returns

Thank you to Disney Studios for hosting me during the Mary Poppins Returns Event!

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Jana Seitzer | Whisky n Sunshine)

When you head to the theater to watch Mary Poppins Returns, you will fall in love with the music. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are the writers behind the songs that will be stuck in your head for days, weeks, months and years to come.

Go ahead and grab the soundtrack now…you’ll be listening non-stop!

Richard Sherman (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

What was it like working with legendary composer Richard Sherman?

Scott: Oh, that was heaven. Last week, we got to spend a whole day with him. And it was just glorious.

Marc: I became four years old. I mean, there he was in front of me and I got to ask him why’d you write this song and why was it in this key? And what was that chord? And the choices of words? And what was Walt Disney like? It was so surreal that I don’t remember any of his answers. But the glorious part of it 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. 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.


Where did they find their musical inspiration?

Scott: 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.  And then we had Emily and Lin, and we had them right from the beginning, so we got to sculpt all this material on them… The first movie was like our teacher, was our parents… There’s gonna be something about what we wrote, that would come from that… 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.

Marc: We had a great four months of working with Rob and his partner John 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 which songs – where to put a song. And how it would speak to what was going on, or further what was going on.

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.

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, and the Sherman brothers wrote a song called The Chimpanzoo.

What were some of the challenges they faced writing the music for Mary Poppins Returns?

Marc: We tried to write songs that were more in the style of the English dance bands of the early ‘30s. And we thought it’d be fun if Mary Poppins had a touch of current sound work for the ‘30s. And it’s like, “Hey, I know what the kids are doing. And I’m gonna sing a song in a style that will show that I’m aware, and make the kids maybe be a more interested.” It was a fun song and they even started rehearsing, they started working on what it would look like. And so they already had Emily up on wires and how they would slow the picture down a little, so it looked underwater. And that’s when they said, “You know what, we love the song, and yet when we say the title, we don’t sing it.” So, just think one more time about this song. And so we knew we had to come up with something where you might sing the title. Also, with the first song, they kept saying, “We gotta deliver Lin-Manuel.” We have to deliver Lin-Manuel. Sort of felt like a midwife. So the first song we wrote is the one that’s in the movie. But it’s very gentle. And at one point Rob thought 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, and he should welcome us into the movie. But it is the Depression, or as they called it the Slump. There was a great duo back then called Flanagan and Allen. And they wrote songs like, Under The Arches. And songs about the common man, not being worried about riches and  just being happy, him and his family.

Scott: When he says, “Lovely London sky,” it was not a day unlike today.

Marc: He’s thinking about a gray sky. But after that they kept saying, “Is it gonna deliver Lin-Manuel?” So we wrote a second song, with a little bit 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, and Emily Blunt was coming down the hallway. And 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 Rob and said, “You put that first song back in the movie. 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.” Sometimes you gotta do all that just to come back. But the other ones we wrote two or three songs.


Did the actors inspiration when writing their songs?

Scott: Ben Whishaw, who’s such a lovely, lovely man. He was on Broadway, doing a play. And he was in consideration for that part. So we invited him over and said, ”Would you like to sing?” And he said, “Well, I don’t really know any….” in his shy little way.

Marc: And we’re talking about Mary Poppins

Scott: ”Well, I know Feed The Birds,”  he said.

Marc: Can you imagine that face singing Feed The Birds? And we’re like, the part is yours.

Scott: And we went and wrote that song for him.

Marc: And a little personal note, we have a friend who had lost his wife. Hbe wrote about it. And he would say that, when everyone was gone, he would walk around, that he would converse with her still every night about the day. But then every now and then, he would say, “Man, where did you go?” So we asked for his blessing, because he also has three kids, and just lost his wife. So we asked for his blessing to take that part of his life that’s very special. And if we could use that in this. So that’s why the song ends that way.

There is so much I’ve shared about Mary Poppins Returns right here on As The Bunny Hops-you don’t want to miss it! Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters now!

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. The producers are John DeLuca, p.g.a., Rob Marshall, p.g.a. and Marc Platt, p.g.a. with Callum McDougall serving as executive producer. The music score is by Marc Shaiman and the film features all new original songs with music by Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. The film also stars Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks; Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks; Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen; Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and introducing Joel Dawson as the Banks’ children, with Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary Bank’s William Weatherall Wilkins; and Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy. Angela Lansbury appears as the Balloon Lady, a treasured character from the PL Travers books and Dick Van Dyke is Mr. Dawes, Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.

As The Bunny Hops®