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‘Mary Poppins Returns’: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman On Writing The Songs and Working With Emily Blunt
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Mary Poppins Returns would not be much of a Mary Poppins follow-up without any of the musical numbers. So composer and co-lyricist Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman will bring back the spirit of the Sherman Brothers through new music in the highly anticipated sequel to the 1964 film.

In the new film, we see Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) return to help the Banks family, who is about to be evicted from their home. She brings back the light that is lost and reminds the family about all of the joys and happiness that can be found in imagination and seeing things from a different point of view. And most of that is through song.

We joined our fellow journalists at a press conference in Los Angeles to talk to Shaiman and Wittman about writing the songs and music heard in Mary Poppins Returns. Like everyone else involved, the original film was in their DNA, so getting a chance to be a part of something so beloved was a dream come true. But they also recognized the responsibility of paying respects to the sequel’s predecessor and how many hold it in high regard. They also shared their thoughts on working with screenwriter David McGee and director Rob Marshall. More on that and what their thoughts on Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins in our coverage of the press conference here below.

Shaiman says that the first Mary Poppins was a large part in his childhood. Or perhaps his entire childhood.

Like everyone else, Mary Poppins was an extremely large part in my childhood. I think my entire childhood was Mary Poppins. I really have no other memory of childhood, except listening to that record and reading the synopsis of the story.”

Shaiman was surrounded by music and the industry. He grew up with it. So he understands how to write music for it and how to make sure it stays within the themes and tones of the film. He was fascinated by the technicalities of making music from writing the music and lyrics to the orchestration aspects.

“It starts with an F triad, which I learned later. And then it’s violins tremolo, which I learned later. And then the English horn comes in on Feed The Birds. I didn’t know what those instruments were, I was four. I didn’t know what those words were: A man has dreams of walking with giants / To carve his niche in the edifice of time …”

He wasn’t sure why the chords or the music were making him feel these sensations at the age of four, but the culmination gave him the push to learn everything about music from that album.

So when his dream came true to be a composer, he got to incorporate everything he learned from the album into his work. In fact, he poured his heart and soul into the film, so much so he knows the actors intimately despite never having seen them on set.

Scott Wittman, who co-wrote the lyrics with Shaiman, also talked about working on the different ranges from hip-hop to the classical music pieces on the sequel. The lyricist said that he and Shaiman would refer back to the books for inspiration. But his favorite part of the whole creative experience was working with screenwriter David Magee, director Rob Marshall, and producer John DeLuca to carve out what the musical numbers would be. “I think that is probably one of the most creative times I have had in a very long time,” Whittman said.

Like the script, a lot of the songs in the film were inspired by the books. One song, in particular, is “Where The Lost Things Go.” Whittman says that in one of the books, Mary’s uncle is the man in the moon. So she takes the children there, but on the other side of the moon she says that that is where the lost things go. The dark side of the moon. “Not in a Pink Floyd way,” Whittman joked. “It was a good metaphor for lost to sing to the children.”

“We had to find a way for her to sing about loss to the children in a way that they could comprehend. The song doesn’t actually speak of their mother until the final verse until she feels that she is really getting it.”

But for them to hear Blunt sing the song was magical. Shaiman also credits director Rob Marshall from getting from scene to song. “No one does it like he does,” Shaiman said. “That song in particular, you are like, ‘Oh, she is singing on the song.’ And all of that on-set live singing must have been terrifying. But with Emily Blunt, nothing seems terrifying.”

Blunt recalls singing that song with Shaiman and Wittman during the early days of production. She was so incredibly moved by it that she found it impossible to get through the first few times she sang it. “It was so emotional for me because I did think of my own children,” Blunt said. “These children and the sense of loss, they are trying to hold their father together. They dealt with something so profound and so agonizing. To lose a parent so young and to miss her so much, it just moved me so much.”

Shooting that song was one of her favorite days of production for the film because she saw that Mary Poppins recognized what the children needed in such a terrible time.

“The song is so true and she doesn’t shy away from the fact that they lost something. But there’s something to learn from. The idea of loss is something that they have to digest as children and to walk through – you are going to walk through this loss and nothing is lost forever, it’s just out of place is such a hopeful way to look at loss.”

Mary Poppins Returns opens in theaters on December 19, 2018.

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