Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Miranda is Burt’s Young Protege

In the original movie, Mary and the Banks kids were frequently joined on their adventures by Burt, a cockney chimney sweep who was very familiar with the magical nanny and was no stranger to her unique charms and abilities. In the sequel, Burt has been replaced by Jack, a lamplighter who traverses London on bicycle, bringing light to the city streets.

But fans shouldn’t see this as a slight. After all, Jack is played by Tony, Grammy, and Emmy winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, best known for writing and starring in Broadway’s Hamilton. That by itself should be enough to win over just about everyone. But as Platt explains, Jack shares a direct connection to good ol’ Burt:

Jack in our film is an adult protégé of the original character Burt. But he’s not a chimney sweep, he’s a leerie. And back in the day the leeries were those who rode around on bicycles with ladders and climbed up to the lamp posts and lit the street lamps on the streets of London, and then doused them in the morning when the dawn would rise. And to play that role we got the exciting performer, most notable from Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Wonderful song and dance man, wonderful actor, which is what he’s doing in this film. And he inhabits the role of Jack and creates a wholly original character, playing this leerie. And he gets to do all the things that you want to see Lin do. He gets to be charismatic. He gets to bring light into the world. He sings. He dances. And, believe it or not, 1934 music hall style he even gets to do a little rap. It’s quite extraordinary.

Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda will get to rap in the new Mary Poppins movie. What an age we live in.

Miranda himself, an old school musical fanboy if there ever was one, could barely contain his enthusiasm for the project. That’s appropriate, because as Miranda explains it, his Jack is very much a Mary Poppins fanboy:

Yeah, you know, Jack is a lamp-lighter. He apprenticed under Burt from the original films so he knows all about Mary. He knows that Mary shows up and stuff’s going to happen and cool adventures will be had. So it’s really nice to play the Burt position in this film. You kind of get to go on all the fun adventures with the Banks family. But the joy of playing — when Rob and John first sort of approached me with this role, it was across the street from Hamilton. I went and met with them between shows. It was at the restaurant in the Paramount hotel across the street. They said, we want you to play a lamp-lighter. I said, what is that? They said they light up the lamps. I said, oh, I played this already, because my first show In the Heights was about — I plays a guy named Usnavi and the central metaphor from that was he’s the street lighter in the neighborhood. At first he sees it as, he’s stuck here and everyone gets to go everywhere else. But then he sort of refocuses himself after the thing and says, oh, it’s my job to tell these stories, to shine a light on these stories on this corner, so it felt very close to home, the role, as soon as they pitched it to me.

While most of the adult cast has forgotten about Mary Poppins, and forgotten about magic entirely, Jack’s training under Burt has left him just childlike enough to remember her and know what she’s all about:

I think Jack apprenticed to him and was just kind of his — I just picture a little mini-Burt running around after him. And he sort of grows up and doesn’t lose that spark. I think what Burt and Jack share is that they don’t lose the imagination that comes with childhood. I think that’s one of the themes, too, that grownups forget. Grownups forget imbuing the world with imagination at every turn. And what sets Burt apart and Jack apart is that they don’t. He doesn’t — he remembers Mary Poppins and he remembers everything she’s capable of. She’s not just a nanny in his head. She is a bringer of wonder. That’s what they should [remember].

Dick Van Dyke is Back

Dick Van Dyke famously played two roles in the original Mary Poppins: singing chimney sweep Burt and decrepit bank owner Mr. Dawes. While Burt has moved on in the world of Mary Poppins Returns and Mr. Dawes passed away at the end of the original film, Van Dyke is back. This time, he plays the son of Mr. Dawes, who is now old enough to be the same age of his father in the original movie. Platt had nothing but praise for the legendary actor returning to the world of Mary Poppins:

Also joining us for the film, from the original, is Dick Van Dyke, who plays a similar character to the original – you know he played two characters in the original film. He played Burt and he played the old banker, Mr. Dawes. Well, in this film he actually plays that old Mr. Dawes’s son, who now is the same age as Mr. Dawes. So he looks kind of the same as in the original film, he just doesn’t have to wear much make-up. But it was a quite an exciting moment for all of us when he did his couple days of shooting. His spirit, his generosity, his joie de vivre was just ever present, and so he created a wonderful role.

Later, Miranda geeked out about Van Dyke’s two days on set, noting that the 91-year old actor had as much energy as ever:

He filmed his stuff here already. And it was like the best two days ever. I aspire to having that much energy in my life, someday, much less at 91. It was a joyous two days. We were in the scene together, and we were just huddled off in the corner, and I was asking questions about Bye Bye Birdie. You want to talk about a run — that guy went from debuting on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie to getting The Dick Van Dyke Show to filming Mary Poppins like, on his hiatus. And that’s when they did the 32 hours of TV not the 24. So that’s, you know, if anyone has a right to be retired and chilling, it’s Dick Van Dyke! [laughs] 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.

The Songs Sure Are Catchy

When we first arrived at the set visit, we were ushered into a waiting area filled with displays from the film. Costumes, concept art, and props filled every corner of the room, but what grabbed my attention first was something that I heard. Music. Catchy, whimsical, ear-wormy music that still hasn’t left my head over a year later. One number, whose chorus asks us “Can you imagine that?” in Emily Blunt’s instantly recognizable voice, is especially burned into my memory. It made me was to order the Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack immediately.

While we were unable to speak with songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, their work built the foundation of the entire set visit. Everything eventually came back around to their contributions and how vital they are to making the movie work. Platt told us how important it was to find songwriters who could craft songs that could stand alongside the original film:

And then of course, we had to come up with music, and we’re all musical nuts and nerds and make a lot of musical films. So, who to find that could create new songs and new lyrics that will stand the test of time, stand up against the original, which is the Sherman Brothers, but yet be original and our own personality? And we went to two great pros, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, most notably of Hairspray, recently Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a host of many others. Marc wrote the music for the South Park film, I think you may remember years and years ago. They’re pretty fantastic. And it turns out Marc Shaiman was a composer who grew up on those early films by the Sherman Brothers, so it was something he felt very connected to. And yet, what we created is a new and vibrant, wholly original musical score written by Marc and Scott that tells our story of Mary Poppins and our story of the Banks family and new characters. It is particularly well suited to the story that we’re telling.

And yes, Miranda, the resident musical geek, could’ve gone on about them for ages:

I’m a fan of Marc and Scott’s music for many years. I remember getting rush tickets to previews of Hairspray right out of college when it was in previews, and losing my mind that this could be happening. I remember seeing Marc Shaiman sitting next to me, taking notes because he was [unintelligible]. And here we are working all these years later. I’m also a fan of Marc’s work in everything from South Park to his work with Billy Crystal when he would write, [sings] “It’s a wonderful night for Oscar.” Like, he wrote those. To see him play live, Bette Midler on Johnny Carson’s last show. and he and Scott are so well-suited to this musical. I could never have written this score. It’s really funny, actually. This morning on my Facebook, and I’ll post it on Twitter later, to prove it to you, I had Marc Shaiman’s very kind words after he saw Hamilton, which was, as you said, thank God I don’t write scores like this or I would be strangling him instead of hugging him. And that’s sort of how I feel. We write so differently that there’s no jealousy. It’s just like a thrill that I get to play in this world. We don’t normally get to play together. So to get to sing Marc and Scott’s music is a real joy. And it’s such a love letter to the Sherman brothers as you will soon see, that it’s great. It just feels like a love letter to the original.

While all of the songs and music we heard was new to us, it felt classical in the right ways, like it could’ve easily existed in 1964 and could’ve been used in the original movie without anyone noticing the modern origins. Blunt herself noted this:

But I think that these songs, even though you haven’t heard them before, there is something about the music that seems familiar, and I think that is always a sign of a great song, if you feel like I’ve heard this, and you realize you haven’t but it’s just that good that it strikes a chord in you.

Get ready, musical fans. You’re going to want to own this soundtrack.

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