Lin-Manuel Miranda recalls being approached about a role in Mary Poppins Returns across the street where Hamilton was playing at The Paramount some time ago. He met with director Rob Marshall (Into the Woods, Chicago) between shows at Industry, a restaurant inside the theater. “They said, ‘We want you to play a lamplighter’ and I said, ‘Call me back, I played this already.’”
Miranda was joking, of course. He was referring to his role as Usnavi in the Broadway hit musical In the Heights. Miranda created the music and lyrics for the show centered around the Dominican-American New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. Miranda wrote the first incarnation of In the Heights his sophomore year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In The Heights received nine Drama Desk nominations including best music, best lyrics, and it won the award for outstanding ensemble performance.
“In the Heights was about a guy named Usnavi and the essential metaphor of that was that he would use the streetlight,” says Miranda. “He’s stuck and everyone else gets to go. But he then refocuses his point of view at the end of the thing and shines the light on the stories that pass along his corner. So it felt very close to home, the role, as soon as they pitched it to me.”
Miranda sees very little difference between transitioning from Broadway to a film musical. “The only real key difference is that you do a musical number and they applause a year and a half later,” adds Lin-Manuel Miranda from the The Orangery, which sits inside Shepperton Studios in London where Mary Poppins Returns is filming. “That’s the weirdest part. We do a very elaborate musical number where it could be anything you could see on a Broadway stage and in 3D and then you go da-da [no applause]. I miss the buzz of the applause a little bit.”
In Mary Poppins Returns, Miranda plays an optimistic gas lamplighter named Jack. “There’s a lots of cool stuff going to happen,” admits Miranda. “[Jack] knows all about Mary, he knows Mary Poppins. He gets to go on adventures with the Banks family.”
The film’s director and producer would be among the big draws for Miranda joining the cast of the sequel. “There are dream come true moments like getting this show [Hamilton] on Broadway and then there are dreams that you didn’t have the audacity to have and here we are,” he says. “The main reason that I’m here is because of Rob Marshall. He is the best at making movie musicals. Chicago is the best movie adaption of the stage and musicals. That’s the hardest thing to pull off. I say he was born in the wrong era. Like if he were born during the MGMs there would be tons of original classics.” According to Miranda, “[Marshall] did a two-act musical in a three-act film.”
Miranda has been a big fan of Scott Wittman’s (co-lyricist) music for many years. “I remember rushing for tickets to see Hairspray when I was right out of college when he was in previews and losing my mind. That I’m here and that we are working together all these years later…”
He adds, “Composers and directors don’t get to play together. [Mary Poppins Returns] is such a love letter to Sherman Bros. and that you would see [from Marc Shaiman]. A love letter to the original (music).”
In Mary Poppins Returns, Miranda plays a convincing ‘leerie’ from his wardrobe (brown derby wool cap, green corduroy jacket, five-button vest, trousers, and scuffed brown shoes) and props down to his British accent. Expect to see Miranda singing and dancing as well as even bringing a little hip hop to the 1930s. He gave Remezcla a sneak peek inside the film’s most intricate numbers inside Stage A. We witnessed the “Abandoned Park” scene where Miranda along with 50 dancers perform utilizing all the elements of Jack’s world – from vintage bicycles to ladders, to ‘leerie’ sticks and lampposts, of course. Paying homage to the great Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the scene is filled will everything from lamppost swinging, high kicks, tap dance, prop acrobatics, a little bit of hip hop, and more.
The sequel to the original Mary Poppins musical film, Mary Poppins Returns is based 25 years after in Depression-era London (the time period of the original P.L. Travers novels). The audience will get a chance to meet now all grown up Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three children. The family is visited by the enigmatic flying nanny following a family tragedy. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack, she helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.
The film is also produced by Marc Platt (La La Land). Miranda stars opposite British actress Emily Blunt, who plays a spectacular Mary Poppins, 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 co-starred in the original 1964 movie.
Miranda called working with Van Dyke the “best two days” and he surely didn’t hesitate asking Van Dyke plenty of questions while working together. “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.”
According to Miranda he aspires to “have that much energy in my life, someday, much less at 91.”
Miranda relates with both the character of Jack and Van Dyke’s original part of Bert. “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.”
Miranda is only an Oscar win away from attaining the coveted EGOT status (The acronym EGOT refers to people who have won all four of the entertainment industry’s major awards: a Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.) His role in Mary Poppins Returns may just be the film he needs to snag an Oscar after all.
Mary Poppins Returns hits theaters on December 19, 2018.