Lin-Manuel Miranda is now very much the darling of Broadway. Following on from his hugely popular musical, In The Heights, came Hamilton. That musical, telling the life story of the Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, has proven to be a bigger hit than anyone could have ever imagined; not least, Miranda himself. To date, Hamilton is the most Tony nominated musical of all time, with a massive 16 nods. The show is about to embark on a tour of the U.S, with a run in London's West End also confirmed for next year. Miranda himself has now departed the lead role, though, and its little wonder, since his talent is in demand elsewhere - particularly from Disney, which has secured him to work on three upcoming projects.
Miranda has co-written the songs for the soon to be released Moana, featuring the voice talents of Dwayne Johnson and Nicole Scherzinger, and will also co-write the songs for the upcoming live-action The Little Mermaid reboot, alongside original composer Alan Menken. Miranda will also serve as co-producer on the film, which will come from Disney as opposed to the other live-action Little Mermaid in development at Universal. Not content with his musical work off screen, Miranda is also signed on for a third Disney project; Mary Poppins Returns, the Mary Poppins sequel in which Miranda will play lamp-lighter Jack, opposite Emily Blunt as the titular nanny. The movie is directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods) and picks up with the Banks children, Jane and Michael, as adults. Meryl Streep is also signed on to play Topsy, Mary Poppins' cousin.
Mary Poppins Returns has a release date set for December 2018, and Miranda has been talking to Variety about the character he plays and how he fits into the narrative from the first film - where Dick Van Dyke starred as chimney sweep Bert:
"It's a straight up sequel. Michael and Jane Banks have grown up, and they find themselves in their own spot, and Mary Poppins comes back to take care of Michael’s kids. I play a lamplighter named Jack who sort of grew up apprenticing to Bert. So I know if Mary Poppins shows up, it’s gonna get awesome. I perform that function in the movie, of saying: ‘Y’all don’t know about Mary Poppins. When Mary’s around, cool shit happens.’ "
Miranda says he hasn't met Van Dyke yet, but he is clearly a huge admirer of the veteran performer and a fan of the original film.
"That movie is everyone’s childhood. Mine too. Although I never got through ‘Tuppence’ [the song ‘Feed the Birds’], because that lady made me so sad that I would burst into tears. It took me a long time to actually see the end of the movie.”
In fact, Miranda comes across as a huge Disney fan, period, which is probably why he seems so genuinely excited to be working with the House of Mouse on so many projects, and who can blame him? The chance to co-write with Menken must surely be too good an opportunity to pass up, and Miranda is quick to acknowledge that, along with the late Howard Ashman, the composers found a unique talent for taking the audience to another time and place:
“I feel really lucky that I was a kid when they went on that run of animated musicals, starting with ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Not just animated movies, animated musicals. Howard Ashman [the late writer-lyricist of ‘Mermaid,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Aladdin’] figured out, ‘Oh my God, I can make even better musicals under this system than I can Off Broadway.’ I have never been more transported in my life than when ‘Under the Sea’ first started when I was nine years old. I said, ‘I cannot believe what is happening to me,’ and that feeling of vertigo in a movie theater. Something I’ve been chasing ever since. To be part of that legacy, and then ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King,’ it was just this incredible run that happened when I was ages 9 to 14. It’s very formative to me. I’m thrilled to be a part of that tradition.”
The movies to which Miranda refers all fall into what is commonly known as the Disney Renaissance period, when the company were consistently putting out high quality musical films. It seems as though Disney are in another golden era right now, too. Starting with the release of Frozen, Disney took animated films and musicals to new heights. Since then, they have continued to produce a wide variety of films that have all been well received, including Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, but its the live-action genre where Disney have really excelled - offering a string of remakes, reboots, and reimaginings.
While not all of Disney's recent live-action films have been received well by critics (see Alice Through the Looking Glass), others have been much more well received by critics and public alike, such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book. The upcoming Beauty and the Beast live-action retelling is also highly anticipated; and so, while the public might (understandably) be rather protective of the Mary Poppins legacy, with the talents of Miranda, Blunt and Streep on board, it seems as though the sequel could really be one to watch. While no date has been set for The Little Mermaid remake, that too, could be something really great, especially with new songs from Miranda and Menken to boost the already outstanding score.
Mary Poppins Returns will be released in U.S. theaters on December 25, 2018. The Little Mermaid has no release date yet.