Half a century ago, back in 1964, a film came out that would shape the childhoods of not just one generation, but pretty much every generation that came thereafter.
Mary Poppins, since first it graced cinema screens, became a firm fixture on family television sets. I recall my grandmother posting me a card with a pound coin taped to it with the strict instruction to rent Mary Poppins from the video shop. For my father, the film marks his very first trip to the cinema, age six.
But mine was not the only home filled with the sounds of “chim chimney chim chimney” being played on a loop. Lin-Manuel Miranda, star of Mary Poppins Returns — the upcoming sequel to the beloved original film — says the movie was “on regular rotation” in his childhood home.
“I wore out ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and I wore out ‘Jolly Holiday,’ Miranda tells Mashable during a set visit at Shepperton Studios, where filming took place. “I didn’t see the end for many years because I would burst into tears at ‘The Birds,’ and I was like, ‘Turn it off! Turn it off!'”
To be starring in the sequel is, understandably, something of a dream for Miranda, given his childhood obsession with the original. Miranda plays Jack, a lamplighter who “apprenticed under Bert [Dick Van Dyke] from the original films.”
“I started writing musicals because I didn’t see a path for myself in musical theatre.”
“There are dreams that are too audacious to dream,” says Miranda. “Like, you could dream of maybe being on Broadway someday, you could dream of writing a show.
“Then there are dreams that you didn’t even have the audacity to have, like that there would be a sequel to Mary Poppins and you could be dancing with Mary Poppins someday. Who would have the audacity to have that dream?”
But, this audacious dream is now a reality for Miranda, who forged his own route to musical theatre by creating In the Heights and Hamilton: An American Musical.
“I started writing musicals because I didn’t see a path for myself in musical theatre,” he says. “I was like, I don’t dance well enough to play Bernardo [from West Side Story], and if you’re a Puerto Rican dude that’s what you get.”
The movie features songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and an original score by Shaiman, who’s best known for writing the Broadway musical version of Hairspray. Working alongside Shaiman and Wittman is particularly poignant as he’s been a fan of them both “forever”.
“You finish the musical number and they applaud a year-and-a-half later.”
“I remember getting rush tickets to previews of Hairspray and actually standing next to Marc Shaiman while he was taking notes and I was just a kid out of college,” says Miranda. He says the opportunity to sing Marc and Scott’s music is “a real joy.” He describes the score to the sequel as a “love letter” to the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the score for the 1964 movie.
So, how does Miranda’s experience of performing on a film set differ to singing on stage in front of a live audience?
“Well, the only really key difference is that you finish the musical number and they applaud a year-and-a-half later, which is jarring,” he says. “I miss the buzz of applause a little bit.”
Miranda was still performing in Hamilton when he was approached by director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca with the role. In between shows, Miranda met with Marshall and DeLuca in the Paramount Hotel, just across the road from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton was playing.
“They said, ‘we want you to play a lamplighter,'” Miranda recalls. When Miranda asked what a lamplighter was, he realised he’d already played a similar role in his first show, In the Heights. “I play a guy named Usnavi and the central metaphor from that was he’s the street lighter in the neighbourhood,” says Miranda. He says this character struggles with the notion that he’s “stuck here” but then realises it’s his job “to tell these stories, to shine a light on these stories on this corner.”
For this reason, the role of Jack “felt very close to home” when it was pitched to him.
Mary Poppins Returns will hit cinemas in the UK on December 21, 2018, and in the U.S. on December 19, 2018.