Los Angeles Times
Wish Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman Good Luck – They’re Up For Oscars – Mary Poppins Returns
By HUGH HART
FEB 15, 2019
Mister D: I’d just like to send out a special thank you, good luck, and a break a leg to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman if they happen upon this. They are so overdue in my opinion for an Oscar. Both so kind, witty, and yes, humble, but also, so uniquely talented beyond belief. I’ve briefly met Scott twice and he was very cordial, but Marc seems to be the real social butterfly. Talked to him for a while with Nathan Lane at one of Bette’s Hulaweens. We were all quite soused and had a few laughs. Marc has always helped me whenever I asked for help with Bootleg Betty. I mean I never inundated him, just not my style, but he always came through, and oddly enough I was able to help him out a couple of times. Just very nice. He has a perpetual smile on his face that is so endearing. So here’s to Mary Poppins.
Half a century after his 4-year-old self obsessed over the “Mary Poppins” soundtrack album while lying on his stomach next to the family record player, Marc Shaiman became fixated on writing the music for director Rob Marshall’s sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.” The competition was stiff, but Shaiman had a leg up because he’d already documented his passion for the original 1964 movie.
“A year before I’d even heard any talk about a sequel, I found a copy of ‘Mary Poppins’ in a used record store” recalls Shaiman, speaking from the weekend home in upstate New York he shares with husband Louis Mirabal. “I had my friend tape me placing the needle on the record, and the look on my face when I heard that first tremolo chord? You could literally see the music coursing through my blood. I sent the video to Rob, and that was my ace in the hole.”
Shaiman earned an Oscar nomination for his “Mary Poppins Returns” score and picked up an original song nod as well for “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” written with longtime co-lyricist Scott Wittman. Shaiman’s lush arrangements and buoyant melodies, recorded in London by an 82-piece symphony orchestra, unapologetically reanimate vintage 20th century songcraft to suit the Depression-era story.
“Scott and I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s desperately wanting to know about everything that had come before,” says Shaiman. “I am damned proud that we made music in a style that sounds like it belongs in the universe of Mary Poppins.”
“That style started with Gilbert and Sullivan and evolved into the music hall patter song,” Shaiman explains. “When Lin got cast, Scott and I were, like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s not anachronistic at all for us to create this type of number for him.’ But it was daunting, because on one shoulder we’ve got the Sherman brothers, who in my opinion wrote the greatest song score for a movie ever made, and on the other, we’ve got the preeminent musical writer of his generation.”
The melody for the lullaby “The Place Where Lost Things Go” came easily to Shaiman. The hard part, he says, was figuring out the lyric hook for Emily Blunt’s character. “Mary Poppins has to soothe the children and speak about grieving in a way they can understand,” he says. “Luckily, Scott remembered one of P.L. Travers’ books where Mary Poppins takes the kids on an adventure to visit the man on the moon. He keeps all these trinkets that kids have lost on the dark side of the moon, so we came up with the phrase ‘a place where lost things go.’ Then I went over to the piano, and the music kind of flowed out.”
Shaiman started taking piano lessons in first grade. By 12, he’d become suburban New Jersey’s community theater wunderkind. When he turned 16, Shaiman got a GED, quit high school and moved to New York. There he teamed up with Bette Midler, launching a career that has encompassed an Emmy-winning collaboration with Billy Crystal for co-writing the 1992 Academy Awards telecast, the Broadway hit “Hairspray” and the NBC musical series “Smash.”
But for Shaiman, all roads lead to “Mary Poppins Returns.” He says, “One chord runs throughout the first movie, and I’ve put what I call the Mary Poppins Chord into all these other scores. I’m sure some directors have walked away from recording sessions saying to themselves, ‘Why is this schmuck scoring my movie like it’s a frigging Mary Poppins movie?’ And now, I’ve actually worked on a film where the director’s saying, ‘Schmuck, score it like a Mary Poppins movie!’ I never dreamed I’d get to put all this stuff where it properly belongs.”