When asked to revisit legendary Mary Poppins, the 1964 movie musical starring Julie Andrews as the prim-yet-magical nanny, director-choreographer Rob Marshall knew he needed a new story to tell, one that has led to Mary Poppins Returns—in theatres December 19.
“I went directly to the books and I saw the books were written in the ’30s,” he tells Playbill in the video above. “The first book was written in 1934 in the Depression era and you feel that in the books. It feels very current in a way to create a story about a darker time, which I feel in some ways we are in and people are struggling.”
But rather than start from scratch with a brand new family, he realized he could revisit the original Banks family. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, if we’re using the film that was literally set in 1910, that’s basically 24 years later so Michael and Jane would be older.’ That brought me to this idea of Michael and Jane as adults. What’s happened to them? The story about loss of wonder and joy that you have as a child that disappears because adulthood sets in and at the same time I thought to myself we could also compound that with this loss of a loved one. This is a family that needs to heal. So Mary Poppins needs to come and bring a ray of light to this world and to this world and to this family and help them heal.”
Marshall chose Emily Blunt as his Mary and Lin-Manuel Miranda as a new character, Jack the lamplighter, to lead the younger Banks children through the signature adventures—brought to life with CGI animation, traditional cartoon animation, and good old-fashioned showstoppers. “It was a return to an homage of the musical of my youth: Sound of Music and Oliver!...these event musicals. It was thrilling to create that.”
Marshall began his career as a performer on Broadway, debuting as the replacement for Munkustrap in the original Broadway production of Cats. He performed in Zorba, The Rink, and the original The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Broadway before transitioning to the creative side; he made his Broadway choreographic debut as the movement consultant on Blithe Spirit and provided additional choreography for Kiss of the Spider Woman, starring Chita Rivera. After choreographing She Loves Me (1993), Damn Yankees (1994), Company (1995), Victor/Victoria (1995), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996), he made his Broadway directorial debut co-directing the 1998 production of Cabaret and then directed and choreographed Little Me later that year. Then, Marshall moved his musical passion to the big screen with his 2002 Chicago. Since then Marshall has brought film adaptations of Nine and Into the Woods to cinemas around the world. Mary Poppins Returns marks his first original film musical.