Lin-Manuel Miranda smiles ear to ear as he describes what it means to star in Mary Poppins Returns. “It’s a dream come true moment to be dancing with Mary Poppins,” he says from the The Orangery, which sits within Littleton House, inside Shepperton Studios in London.
According to Miranda, the original Mary Poppins film was a “regular rotation” in his house. “I didn’t see the end for many years because I would burst into tears at ‘Feed the Birds’ and I’d be like, ‘Turn it off. Turn it off.’ I watched it many times.”
In this new upcoming sequel, Miranda plays an optimistic gas lamplighter named Jack. And based on the glimpse we got on set, he’s a convincing ‘leerie’ – from his wardrobe and props down to his British accent. Viewers can expect to see him singing and dancing in this role, and even bringing a little hip hop to the 1930s.
We spoke with the creator of In the Heights and Hamilton during an on-set sneak peek of the film’s most intricate numbers inside Stage A. That day, the cast and crew were filming the “Abandoned Park” scene, in which Miranda, along with 50 dancers, performed a dazzling number utilizing all the elements of Jack’s world — from vintage bicycles to ladders, to ‘leerie’ sticks and lampposts. The number was a chance to see director Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Chicago) put his movie musical magic to work. The scene, which pays homage to the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is filled will everything from high kicks, tap dance, prop acrobatics, lamppost swinging, and even a little bit of hip hop.
Lin-Manuel cites Marshall’s record of excellent big screen adaptations of Broadway musicals as a a huge incentive for him to join the project – and the stellar cast didn’t hurt either. As Jack, Miranda stars opposite British actress Emily Blunt, who deftly reinvents Mary Poppins for 2018, along with Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), Ben Whishaw (“Spectre”), Emily Mortimer (“Hugo”), Julie Walters (Harry Potter films), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Angela Lansbury (Beauty and the Beast) and Dick Van Dyke, who appeared as a chimney sweeper in the original 1964 musical-fantasy film opposite co-star Julie Andrews.
Miranda called working with Van Dyke the “best two days,” of his experience on set and explained that he didn’t hesitate asking him questions while working together, given Van Dyke’s storied career. “That guy has had a run. He went from debuting on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie to getting the Dick Van Dyke Show and filming Mary Poppins on his hiatus,” Miranda says. “That’s when he did 32 hours of TV, not 24. If anyone should be retired and chillin’, it should be Dick Van Dyke. And yet he’s with us singing and dancing, and it was really thrilling, you know, just to swap Broadway stories about him, about Cheetah [Rivera], about sort of everything in his incredible career.
According to Miranda, he “[aspires] to have that much energy in my life, someday, much less at 91.”
Miranda related to both the character of Jack and Van Dyke’s original character Bert, who is not in this film. (Van Dyke actually replays Mr. Dawes Sr., who he played 54 years earlier, in addition to the part of Mr. Dawes Jr.) “What they [Jack and Bert] share is that they didn’t lose the imagination that comes with childhood. This is one of the themes to it. Grownups forget in viewing the world with imagination at every turn. What sets Jack and Bert apart is that they don’t.”
Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters on December 19, 2018.