Lin-Manuel Miranda On 'Mary Poppins Returns' And Writing His Way Onstage Though best-known for his auteur work, the mastermind of Hamilton and In the Heights says it was his dream to be offered a part in someone else's musical.
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Lin-Manuel Miranda On 'Mary Poppins Returns' And Writing His Way Onstage

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Lin-Manuel Miranda On 'Mary Poppins Returns' And Writing His Way Onstage

Lin-Manuel Miranda On 'Mary Poppins Returns' And Writing His Way Onstage

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Create and star in a blockbuster hip-hop musical, and you get to do pretty much anything you want. For Lin-Manuel Miranda, that means taking a role in the sequel to a Disney classic.


LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Jack) It is my great honor to introduce this evening's renowned guest, the one, the only Mary Poppins.


CORNISH: In "Mary Poppins Returns," Miranda is Jack, the lamplighter. And, yes, that's a Cockney accent. And, no, we're not going to talk about it. And of course he raps.


MIRANDA: (As Jack, rapping) Once upon a time in a nursery rhyme, there was a castle with a king hiding in a wing 'cause he never went to school to learn a single thing. Yet...

If you look at Hamilton and you look at Jack, the lamplighter, they're not very similar. There is not whiff of childhood...

CORNISH: No, you didn't see a connection there (laughter)?

MIRANDA: There's no childhood innocence about Alexander Hamilton.


MIRANDA: (As Jack, rapping) Made a royal proclamation to the misses and the Messrs.

CORNISH: Yet there is a childhood innocence to Lin-Manuel Miranda in "Mary Poppins Returns." It's something director Rob Marshall recognized when he watched Miranda in his pre-"Hamilton" hit "In The Heights." Miranda told me that getting offered a role in someone else's musical has actually been a dream of his.

MIRANDA: It's the fruit of the harvest. I started writing musicals because I desperately wanted a life in musical theater. And I don't have the ballet chops to pull off Paul in "A Chorus Line" or Bernardo. And if you're a Puerto Rican dude, that's what you get in the canon.

CORNISH: I was reading that your favorite song from the original "Mary Poppins" movie - maybe not favorite; maybe you have a mixed relationship with it - is "Feed The Birds."

MIRANDA: Openly hostile is probably my (laughter) relationship to it as a child.

CORNISH: Well, I mean, that's a little strong.

MIRANDA: Yeah, no, it was - I just found it so sad.


JULIE ANDREWS: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Feed the birds, tuppence a bag, tuppence...

MIRANDA: The notion of this bird lady who cares for these birds and sits on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral - I couldn't bear it as a child. It was too much for me. And so I only saw the first two-thirds of the movie many times. As soon as I "Feed The Birds" came on, I would turn it off. Such was VHS technology.

CORNISH: Yeah (laughter).

MIRANDA: It's brutal. I think if it has an equivalent in this movie - not so much that I would turn off the movie, but there's a beautiful song in our film called "Where The Lost Things Go."


EMILY BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Trust she's always there.

MIRANDA: And Mary Poppins is singing to these children. They've lost their mother the year before. She sings about it in such a smart Scott Whitman lyric because it's about loss and it's about grief, but it's also in a way that a child can understand and is not condescending. It doesn't talk down. It doesn't baby talk.


BLUNT: (As Mary Poppins, singing) Time to close your eyes so sleep can come around for when you dream, you find all that's lost is found. Maybe on...

MIRANDA: It's just really beautiful. And if I were a kid at the time, I probably, you know, would have fallen apart at it (laughter).

CORNISH: Your character offers a kind of path of joy and advice out of that. And I'm thinking of a song like "Trip A Little Light Fantastic."


MIRANDA: (As Jack, singing) So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary (ph) who can shine a light for all the world to see as you...

That's sort of Jack's MO, is that he sees the light in any situation. He looks for the hope even in a dark place. It's a lovely sentiment. It's also eight minutes of nonstop dancing. It was one of the last numbers we shot, and we basically spent the entire movie shoot rehearsing for it.

CORNISH: I believe it. The work shows definitely (laughter). At a certain point, you see - I think there's, like, bike tricks and maybe parkour. And I was like, oh, my God, this just exploded into a huge Broadway thing (laughter).

MIRANDA: Totally. And Rob is really the biggest reason I said yes to this after "Hamilton." I wanted to see how one of the best directors of modern musicals does what he does.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Trip a little light fantastic.

CORNISH: After the kind of success that you've had, especially as a young person, how does it affect your aspirations? I mean, do you want to make another big, huge, influential thing? It just feels like an astronaut who's already been to the moon, you know?

MIRANDA: You say that like I set out to make a big, huge, influential thing. I...

CORNISH: Yeah, but once you have and you're having brunch with Cher, you've got to figure out what to do next.


CORNISH: I don't know what's on that list.

MIRANDA: (Singing) If I could turn back time. It's funny. I think that I'm everywhere and I'm nowhere - right? - because we all still - no matter where we are in life, we struggle with balancing our family, our careers and the things we want to do with the things we must do. I feel very lucky that I'm pursuing projects I'm passionate about. And I still know I cannot control the success or failure of a creative endeavor. So I go into these experiences just hoping to learn as much as I can. The rest of it - the world does what it does. You know, and then I take my kid to school in the morning and try to be a good husband and a good father and a good son.

CORNISH: And the kids don't care in a good way.

MIRANDA: Right. Right. The kids, like, want to make sure that the yogurt they like...

CORNISH: Right (laughter).

MIRANDA: ...Is in the fridge.


CORNISH: Exactly.

MIRANDA: I don't like the one with the banana. I like the one with blueberry. That was my discussion this morning (laughter).

CORNISH: Yeah, no, I've been in the yogurt wars, and they're real.



MIRANDA: (As Jack, singing) When the early morning hours have come and gone...

CORNISH: Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda, thank you so much for speaking with us. We really appreciate it.

MIRANDA: Thanks, it was really fun.

CORNISH: "Mary Poppins Returns" is in theaters next week.

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