By Jared Bowen
Feb 24, 2011
BOSTON – Based on the original P.L. Travers children’s stories and the 1964 Walt Disney film, the stage version of Mary Poppins is now playing at the Boston Opera House through March 20. The current stage version takes inspiration primarily from the film, whose music was written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman.
At age 83, Richard Sherman still has the ability to recount with sharpness and insight the creation of the music and his relationship with Walt Disney.
“[Walt] would never say ‘wonderful, great,’ but he would say ‘hmmm… yeah’” remembers Sherman. “Behind your back he would say ‘they wrote the perfect song for this scene,' but never to your face.”
Mary Poppins tells the story of the enchanting but firm nanny who literally blows into an English town to care for two precocious children. Her philosophy is best summed up in one of her signature songs, “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
“It was in part meant to get at Mary's contrarian nature,” Sherman says. “Mary Poppins did things you didn't expect, so when she sings,”
Just a spoonful of sugar
Helps the medicine go down
“Anybody would go down with the melody when they sing ‘down,’ but that’s not Mary Poppins. So we wrote the melody, we had her go up. That’s how we wrote the song.”
Another of the Mary Poppins classic tunes was written for the chimney-sweeper Bert, who is elevated from a minor character in the books to one of the show’s central characters.
“We had to change the word ‘chimney’ to make it work,” explains Sherman. “It’s kind of a button-down word, and we wanted to give it a flow and have a nice feel to it. So it became ‘chim, chimaney, chim, chimaney, chim chim cher-ee.”
Speaking of words, the show is perhaps most famous for introducing the world to the word ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’
Foster explains, “We thought, let’s give them a crazy word, an obnoxious, super colossal word. It started with atrocious, which makes you sound smart… and then that would make your precocious… and then why not docious. That’s the way it started.”
Of the more than 150 songs Richard and Robert Sherman wrote for Disney movies, TV shows, and theme park rides – including “It’s a Small World” – one became Walt Disney’s favorite. That one was Mary Poppins’ “Feed the Birds.”
“[Walt] wanted a symbolic song, so we found in the books a scene with an old lady selling bread crumbs on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. It says that it doesn't take very much to give kindness, to give love.”
Mary Poppins plays at the Boston Opera House through March 20. Showtimes and tickets can be found at broadwayacrossamerica.com.
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