Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have been writing music for movie and stage for years. They’ve labored collectively on tasks just like the TV collection “Smash,” and the film film musical, “Hairspray.” However once they signed on to write down unique music for “Mary Poppins Returns,” it was a very distinctive expertise for each.
Following up one of the iconic film musicals in historical past was a monumental problem, but in addition got here with many rewards. I had the prospect to talk with them collectively about their alternative to work with Rob Marshall on this uncommon undertaking.
Karen Peterson/Awards Circuit: I’m so excited as a result of I really like this film. It’s my favourite film of the yr.
Scott Wittman: We like listening to that!
Marc Shaiman: It’s ours too!
KP: To start out off, for every of you, once you obtained the decision about “Mary Poppins Returns,” did you hesitate in any respect or have been you simply instantly like, “Sure!”
SW: We stated instantly, “Sure,” after which, in fact, the worry set in. So it was a sure after which terrified after that.
MS: It was like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Street Runner off the cliff, and he solely realizes he’s off the cliff a couple of seconds later. Appears on the digital camera and plummets. (laughs) However I couldn’t think about not doing it. Or dwelling life understanding it had gotten achieved and I wasn’t concerned, as a result of that film simply means all the things to me. Not simply as my era because it does, but in addition as a songwriter… I simply needed to do it.
SW: And I feel for Rob Marshall as nicely, that was a prerequisite for anybody concerned within the film. David Magee, all of us, that there was a love and a have to honor the unique film. In order that was definitely a part of the job description.
KP: That is sensible as a result of it actually does really feel prefer it’s made by individuals who really do love the unique movie.
SW: Yeah, as Marc typically says – I’m quoting Marc regardless that he’s right here – “It’s our thanks letter to the primary movie.”
KP: Whenever you got down to write the music, these huge, superb musical numbers, the place did you begin?
SW: We began with Rob and John DeLuca, his producing companion and David Magee, and we began with the books. The PL Travers books. There have been eight subsequent books after the primary one. We met for a few months, perhaps 4 months, with out ever placing pen to paper, simply speaking, enjoying “What if?” What if Mary did this? All the adventures and every part have been taken from the precise books.
MS: And as we have been carving up the plot and determining which adventures mirrored one thing happening within the plot that Mary Poppins can be educating the youngsters some type of lesson, dropping bread crumbs of their brains principally, to get them to determine the best way to assist their father.
SW: In order that was what we did for months. After which we went off and wrote it. We had an excellent basis to start with as a result of we knew who the characters have been by then and we knew what the songs wanted to do within the story.
KP: Which got here first? The lyrics, or the music?
SW: We write the lyrics collectively, so we sit in the identical room, I’m there as properly whereas the music is being written. We write the lyrics collectively after which the music begins to type as we’re working collectively.
MS: First we commerce phrases. Simply phrases which might be on level with what the music must be about. An important factor earlier than music and lyrics is, what’s the concept of the music? What’s its function? And as soon as you work that out, and often a title may come hand in hand with that, then all of the worry of the clean web page simply goes away and abruptly it’s like a toboggan journey and also you’re writing and writing. However there’s 4 days of us simply buying and selling forwards and backwards phrases after which I tempo all of them up on the piano and phrases simply begin coming out as The Ones. And out of the blue, only one melody will star for a verse after which it simply begins main into… you’ll be able to principally write a dummy model of the music, with a few phrases in there after which numerous nonsense in order that we’ve a melody. Then we return and we actually begin carving the lyrics up from first syllable on to try this factor that a track has to do, have that arc.
KP: Which music got here best?
SW: There are all arduous! There’s nothing that simply, like, popped out. I wish to say takes a day and a lifetime to write down. However we have been fortunate that we had the posh of getting Emily [Blunt]. She was making a film in New York on the time and she or he would come virtually as soon as every week and we received handy tailor, bespoke these songs on her. I feel the primary one which by no means had a rewrite was the ballad, “The Place The place Misplaced Issues Go.” I feel Emily – she was a brand new mum or dad on the time – might barely get via the track for an excellent size of time. However that’s a music that didn’t actually undergo a rewrite. Everybody stated, “No, that’s it. Depart that as it’s.”
KP: At what level once you have been working do you know who the actors have been going to be? Was that from the start?
SW: We knew Emily from the start, sure.
MS: However we had truly began, we wrote I feel two songs earlier than Lin-Manuel Miranda was going to play that half. So we adjusted a bit understanding that, and the enjoyable a part of figuring out it was him was getting to write down the English music corridor music, “A Cowl Is Not the E-book,” that entire part in the midst of it, the place he will get to go off on a tongue-twisting tangent – Oh, that was a number of alliteration –
SW: That was good!
MS: Yeah! In order that was enjoyable, understanding we had him. And we have been fortunate that we might do this for him and it wouldn’t be anachronistic in any respect. That sort of factor was so prevalent within the English music corridor, that patter music. After which on the opening track, we had already written. Then we went forwards and backwards writing new songs. Every one in every of them had a bit extra power as a result of individuals have been saying, “You gotta ship Lin-Manuel!” We thought that meant extra power as an alternative of type of a mild track that begins the film. However proper earlier than recording the songs, the choice was made, after 5 songs, to return to the unique track we wrote, “Beneath the Pretty London Sky.” Everybody appreciated the truth that the film would begin with a mild welcome.
MS: And in addition to have the ability to present Lin isn’t going to only be what you anticipate. That he has different sides to him. He was joyful about that himself.
KP: It was so enjoyable to see these sides of Lin-Manuel, with that fairly melody, however then when he additionally will get to only bust into that rap-style in “A Cowl Is Not the Guide.”
SW: Due to the animation, that was the very very first thing they shot. So not solely was he enjoying a lead in an enormous musical and singing that, he was additionally simply in entrance of a inexperienced display for weeks. And they might say, “No, that penguin in your proper hand is heavier.” It was enjoying to nothing, however the animation was coming later.
KP: How do you put together these huge numbers when you understand you aren’t going to get to see what it seems to be like for therefore lengthy?
SW: That’s Rob’s talent. We rehearsed for nearly eight or 9 weeks previous to filming. So every thing was blocked out and meticulously staged in order that when the actors lastly acquired to the set, they knew precisely who they have been and what they have been doing. Then that’s nice freedom as a result of you’ll be able to give attention to the small particulars of issues. We rehearsed it like a Broadway present.
KP: One of many issues that basically struck me and that makes this so particular is the little moments which are homages to the primary movie, the place you have got musical cues from “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Was that one thing that Rob insisted on having there, or did you simply really feel prefer it was essential?
MS: That falls in my class as scoring the film. We knew all alongside that that was the right solution to contain melodies from the primary film. And it was probably the most emotional solution to contain them. After which it simply turned a matter of how a lot or how little. I sort of went slightly overboard once we first began as a result of I take pleasure in doing issues like that. However then Marc Platt was like, “Maintain your horses! Pull the reins! Set up your personal stuff earlier than you go too far with that.” So it occurs very subtly, increasingly more. There’s a variety of very, very, very delicate issues that in all probability individuals don’t even understand they’re listening to which are simply tucked in beneath. Nevertheless it was a pleasure to try this and we’d be loopy, in fact, to not have.
However it will have been merciless to have requested any of our actors to have truly sung any of these songs as a result of the comparisons are onerous sufficient for each the actors and for Scott and I to start with. So to ask Emily to sing “A Spoonful of Sugar” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” we by no means entertained that concept. It simply appeared like we would have liked to make our personal.
KP: Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. Did you got down to write songs for the characters, or do you know that you simply have been writing for them?
SW: The track for Angela Lansbury we wrote as a personality track. We knew Dick Van Dyke was within the film, however we waited, and Rob determined he needed him to sing. So we wrote a reprise of Lin’s track, which appeared to be sort of applicable for him. However the Angela Lansbury character was written because the character. She’s a personality from one of many PL Travers books.
MS: However it’s past a thrill. It’s even nonetheless arduous for me to consider it once they begin singing on display that they’re singing songs that we wrote.
SW: Yeah, once I watched it I really feel like I didn’t even have something to do with it. Like I’m simply watching a film and it’s a tremendous expertise. It feels out of physique.
KP: When you’re watching the movie after it’s accomplished, do you continue to consider issues that you simply want you’d written in a different way or want you had gone a unique path? Or can you simply take pleasure in it?
SW: I’m capable of simply take pleasure in it. Marc’s frantic scoring the film, so he has one other thought. However I’ve seen it– we had an enormous premiere in London and an enormous one in LA and I’ve seen it additionally with youngsters within the viewers and that’s very magical. Lots of people have been sending us notes about, “I took my youngster to see the film and it’s their first non-animated movie.” 4 yr olds simply transfixed by it. These notes have been so emotional from individuals, particularly concerning the ballad.
MS: There are two lyrics I want I might rise up on that display and, I simply nonetheless, oh my god, I want we might simply go in… Actually simply two phrases. One phrase in a single music and one phrase in one other music I want we might simply get in there. In any other case, no, I just about can take pleasure in what ended up getting in there. And Rob has made probably the most lovely film. It’s staggering how good it’s. I don’t assume individuals actually acknowledge the accomplishment of what he pulled off right here. It’s a shocking film. I’ve labored on lots of films and I definitely know those which might be good and those that stink, and those that I’m most pleased with this film out of every little thing I’ve ever labored on. I can simply stand again and marvel at it.
KP: I’ve seen it 3 times, and I’m going to go see it once more.
MS: God bless you!
KP: How a lot time did you spend on set whereas they have been filming?
SW: We did the prerecord after the rehearsal interval. We broke for Christmas after which got here again and recorded the whole lot with the orchestra and with the actors. After which they type of don’t want us anymore till they’re executed. We might sometimes rewrite a phrase right here and there. I went and visited as soon as, however that each one turned Rob’s area.
MS: We have been engaged on a Broadway musical so we have been caught in New York and so we actually couldn’t make it. Solely once we took a small break did Scott have the prospect to go. I feel I used to be nonetheless engaged on the orchestrations or one thing for the musical, which was heartbreaking. We solely watched Angela Lansbury and Dick Van Dyke sing within the recording studio by way of Skype. Thank god for Skype!
I solely met her in individual the opposite day on the AFI Awards. On the finish of the AFI Awards she was the shock visitor speaker to shut out the afternoon and she or he spoke splendidly. After which off she went, and I used to be like, “Oh my god! I can lastly look her within the face and say thanks!” I ran, I virtually tackled her like a soccer participant as a result of she had already made it out. They made an area for her to go shortly and all of a sudden I used to be on this mad crush of individuals, knocking individuals over just like the Superbowl! It was proper on the entrance door of the 4 Seasons, I used to be like, “Ms Lansbury!” She should have thought, “Oh, god, now what?” However as soon as I launched myself and stated that I used to be a part of the group that wrote the songs, she was very candy and it was simply… I nonetheless can’t consider it. It’s all nonetheless surreal, even having talked to her.
KP: Do you have got any tales of a second that you simply have been engaged on music and the way it got here collectively?
SW: Nobody’s requested that!
MS: Properly, one story, it virtually seems like a corny second out of an previous fashion film about writing songs. We had written a track referred to as “Journey the Mild Incredible” for that second within the film that’s now “Journey a Little Mild Incredible.” And we wrote a track that was about how the lamplighters have been educating the youngsters, “Right here’s a option to discover your method house in the dead of night. Pay attention for all of the sounds in London.” And it was an entire music about understanding if you’re on the wharf, and it was a enjoyable track about sounds. We completed it and us and Rob, we realized, wait a second, we should always have written about mild. They’re lamplighters and there’s one thing about following the sunshine that has much more which means.
So we went again to the drafting board, and we have been additionally making an attempt to assume how can we flip the title into one thing slightly extra particular? And so, paradoxically, I obtained on a bicycle right here in New York. They’re metropolis bikes, the place you’ll be able to simply put your card in and also you get on the bike. So off I used to be going to a gathering with Scott over at Rob and John’s home and I used to be on the bicycle desirous about the track and what might it’s as an alternative of journey the sunshine implausible, journey the sunshine unbelievable, the pedals, the spokes and the wheels began speaking to me like out of a corny previous film and it was journey slightly, journey a bit of, journey a bit mild incredible!
By the point I received to the condo, I used to be like “Scott! I’ve acquired a brand new title!” And off we went house to write down the brand new music. So I don’t know if that’s a enjoyable story (laughs) nevertheless it’s true and it’s terrible corny, nevertheless it’s true!
KP: I like it! How about you, Scott?
SW: I liked recording all of the songs, particularly Meryl Streep. I don’t know, I feel Emily is nice enjoyable. She’s actually, actually witty and humorous, and she will actually make me chuckle. When she screws up she all the time screams, “Bloody hell!” It makes me actually snigger!
MS: I do have a variety of humorous outtakes. I discovered some the opposite day. Phrases that Mary Poppins would by no means, ever say! I’ve received them in my again pocket for blackmail!
SW: She will all the time make me snort. She’s acquired an excellent, nice humorousness.
KP: What’s one thing actually made this such a particular movie for you each to work on?
MS: We obtained to satisfy with Richard Sherman when all was stated and executed. After he’d seen the movie and we spent a day with him, they videotaped us interviewing one another. Scott and I asking him questions and him asking us questions. And his seal of approval, that…oh… I’ll begin weeping if I speak about it.
SW: That’s higher than any little gold man. He was incredible, Richard, and he simply loves the film. We had a screening in Santa Barbara, and a person had come as much as me after it and stated he needed to depart his home through the Thousand Oaks hearth and one in every of his youngsters was in that terrible capturing and he simply began breaking down concerning the music in entrance of me. So I knew then, that’s once I kind of knew the music had a life outdoors the film.