On January 24th, we at Variety received word that the Oscar producers had decided to perform only two of the five Best Song nominees on the show (Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” by the two most popular recording artists). Within an hour, I had three other solid sources confirming this, so that afternoon we broke the story. (It was the lead story on Variety‘s front page for nearly a day.) The Academy denied it, of course, but the backlash was immediate and the Twitterverse blew up over it. Producers were forced to retrench, and one week later, artists from the other three songs were invited to perform. And in our most recent exclusive, we broke the news that Bette Midler would perform the nominated song from Mary Poppins Returns on the show.
Composer-songwriter Marc Shaiman earned his sixth and seventh Oscar nominations for music in the long-awaited Mary Poppins Returns: for original score, and original song (“The Place Where Lost Things Go” with his co-lyricist Scott Wittman). It was a long odyssey, involving months developing the storyline, writing and rewriting the songs, flying to London to rehearse with the actors, and finally recording the dramatic score. We discussed all of this in a video interview for SoundWorks Collection — interestingly, at Shaiman’s former Los Angeles studio where he had written the music and songs for his earlier Oscar nominees. (A few days later, I was able to interview both Marc and Scott at a SAG-AFTRA screening of the film in Beverly Hills.)
Make no mistake, Mary Poppins Returns — the long-awaited sequel to one of the most beloved Disney films of all time — will be among this year’s biggest Christmas movies. I was lucky enough to see it several weeks ago in anticipation of writing at length about the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and the score by Shaiman. Variety published it this week, and it includes not only the thoughts of Shaiman and Wittman but also comments from director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt. My longer, more general story about the film that incorporates even more of my interviews — including co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda, was posted a few days later, and that is here.
Perhaps the most interesting of my post-Oscar-nomination assignments: The editors at Variety posed this question: Will the success of La La Land result in studios — which have been reluctant to green-light musicals without a built-in audience — starting to take risks again on original concepts that happen to include actors breaking into song? I interviewed composers, songwriters, agents and others involved in La La Land, Mary Poppins Returns, and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, for the story in this week’s Variety Contenders music issue. Many of them were enthusiastic about the future.