'Mary Poppins' Music 'Is So In My DNA' Says Songwriter & Composer Marc Shaiman

Jan 10, 2019

Even though the new film Mary Poppins Returns took home no honors at the recent Golden Globe Awards, the film has still been hugely successful at the box office, earning upwards of $100 million since its release in December 2018.

And while audiences doubted whether Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda could fill the original film’s sizable shoes, the sequel has charmed audiences and many critics alike. 

"[Mary Poppins] says, 'Practically perfect in every way' — I think this movie is actually perfect in every way," says film contributor Ryan Jay.

"I think this movie is actually perfect in every way." - Film critic Ryan Jay

"I think what's so amazing about this as a sequel is that it pays homage to the original, but is still very modern and fresh in its own way," Jay continues. "It would previously be blasphemous to think that that you could touch a property or recast Mary Poppins because Julie Andrews was so iconic in the role, but Emily Blunt makes it her own."

Another key aspect of a Mary Poppins film is of course, the music.

"These songs are so incredible because they are completely in the style and tone of what the Sherman brothers did in the original film, but still stand alone as their own works of great art," notes Jay.

The film's composer and co-lyricist Marc Shaiman has worked on over 80 films and television shows, not including his compositions for four full Broadway musicals. And although that is an impressive resume, Shaiman says that being given the task of creating music for the Mary Poppins sequel was "intimidating," but also a chance to combine everything he's ever learned into one movie.

Shaiman recalls that he was 4-years-old when the original Mary Poppins was released, and he completely "devoured" the record for his entire childhood (and most of his adulthood as well).

"It meant so much to me," says Shaiman. "The way to write a song I learned from the Sherman brothers — I learned everything I could ever want to know by listening to that record endlessly."

Shaiman admits that the score for the original film is "the greatest song score ever written for an original movie musical, but because [co-lyricist Scott Wittman and I] grew up with it, it is so in my DNA."

"That's very much why Rob Marshall chose Scott and I to write these songs and for me to score the movie," he notes. "It came very naturally to write in a style that at least sounded like it still lived on Cherry Tree Lane."

This opportunity also allowed Shaiman to work with another Broadway star: Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays the character Jack. While the film does have some moments that utilize Miranda's talents showcased in his original musical Hamilton, Shaiman says that Miranda was happy to just be an actor and performer.

"He was like, 'Fellas, you fill the boat, and I'll go sailing on it,' " says Shaiman. "And him having that confidence in us was extrememly helpful."

Shaiman also says that while composing the new score to continue the legacy of Mary Poppins was an amazing experience, he is still in shock about the fact that Angela Lansbury performed the song Nowhere to Go But Up.

"I swear to you, I still cannot believe that it's happened," he says. "When I hear her singing words I wrote and melodies I wrote, I just can't believe it!"

Nowhere to Go But Up is the film's final song that aims to leave audiences with a sense of optimism — something that the whole movie accomplishes, according to Jay.

"The whole movie gives you a sense of joy and, beat for beat, kind of follows where the original went but also perks you up," he says. "I feel like it's the kind of movie that at any point in your life either takes you back to your childhood as an adult, or totally whisks you away as a child and taps into that spirit of imagination and happiness and what could be."