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Alan Menken: The Man Behind Favorite Disney Songs

Alan Menken photo

Consider the best Disney movies and songs in current reminiscence and likelihood is you’ll end up buzzing an Alan Menken melody for the remainder of the day. From “Under the Sea” to “Be Our Guest” to “A Whole New World,” to call a couple of, the eight-time Oscar-winning composer and pianist (who additionally occurs to have loads of Grammy and Tony Awards on his shelf too), has extra hits to his identify than most of the most recognizable songwriters in historical past. We’ve got Menken to thank for the music of “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” “Hercules,” “Tangled,” “Enchanted,” “Newsies,” and the listing goes on and on.  

Lately, Menken has begun bringing the story of his unimaginable profession journey to the stage in his one-man present, “A Whole New World of Alan Menken.” Within the present, Menken accompanies his personal singing and storytelling on the piano, performing a few of his most beloved songs and sharing the tales behind them.

I had the prospect to ask Menken about every thing from how he obtained his superb begin, to what he actually thinks about all of these Disney live-action movies and what it’s wish to work with a few of the (different) largest names within the enterprise, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Man Ritchie, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. 

Alan Menken photoGetty Photographs | Amanda Edwards


Most individuals instantly affiliate you with a number of the most beloved Disney songs of all time, however they may not know the place your profession actually launched, together with your collaboration with Howard Ashman, first on “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” after which on “Little Shop of Horrors.” How did that come about?

Alan Menken: When Howard and I met, I used to be initially  a composer/lyricist and I used to be working within the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop with an exquisite instructor named Lehmen Engel and simply writing plenty of exhibits and making an attempt to make a reputation and enjoying in cabarets and doing the issues you have to do to make a dwelling. Howard was in search of a collaborator for “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” which was an adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel. We determined to work collectively and that turned our first musical collectively.

“Rosewater” ran Off-Broadway nevertheless it was just a little too massive to run Off-Broadway. There have been 14 within the forged, and but it had an Off-Broadway sensibility. So Howard stated, “OK next show we’ll make it a little more economical. I see no more than eight characters plus this puppeteer and puppet. And that, of course, turned out to be “Little Shop of Horrors,” our first hit collectively.

Alan Menken photoGetty Photographs | Larry Busacca

After which Howard was finally answerable for bringing you on board in your first work with Disney, and your collaboration was actually the start of a massively profitable interval for Disney. How did that occur? 

Coming to Disney was truly our coming again collectively as a collaboration. Howard had a selection about who he would ask, and I used to be blessed that he got here again to me and we launched into “The Little Mermaid.”

The different a part of the story is that unbeknownst to many, the AIDS disaster was robbing us of a lot expertise. Howard was sick on the time however was not letting anyone know. 

It was a tremendous time for us, working collectively. Once we wrote “Little Mermaid” I didn’t know something about his well being state of affairs. It was solely on the Oscars for “Little Mermaid” that it was not potential for him to maintain it from everybody. So I knew about it once we started engaged on “Beauty and the Beast,” which he by no means lived to see, and we had additionally begun work on “Aladdin.”

So there was that interval of intense creativity within the midst of a variety of human drama and the creation of all these films. And, in fact, they ended up being an unimaginable renaissance. You don’t know you’re in the midst of historical past when you’re in the midst of it, however we have been.

Collaboration has been so necessary to the music you’ve created. Is your co-writing course of all the time the identical or is every challenge completely totally different? 

Some are extra totally different than others. The first outstanding collaborator after Howard was Tim Rice when he got here aboard to assist me end “Aladdin.” That would not be extra totally different from Howard and most of my collaborations as a result of, primary, we had an ocean separating us more often than not. And once we didn’t, we needed to work in a really intensive multi-tasking course of. We have been engaged on various songs on the similar time. Then we might separate after which come again collectively. And in addition simply as a character and as an artist, Tim and his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber could be very totally different from the best way I labored with Howard. However on the finish of the day, it’s nonetheless a few composer on the piano and a lyricist sort of pacing across the room. 

Let’s speak concerning the deluge of Disney live-action remakes coming down the pipeline. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was an enormous hit that basically delivered for audiences and creatively appeared to fall someplace between the animated unique and Broadway stage model. What’s the artistic mindset for these? Is it to stay as true as potential to the unique? Do you are feeling strain as a result of audiences love these originals a lot?

Properly, I really feel a protectiveness. Animation and theater are each mediums the place the writers, particularly songwriters, actually transfer into the middle of the co-creative course of. For a live-action film, it’s really a director’s medium, so it’s very depending on what the director needs.

Invoice Condon [director of Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast”] is a large Broadway fan, so even once we didn’t match songs from the Broadway present into the film, he nonetheless needed a few of these themes to be mirrored within the underscore. He needed to be very near the theater fashion, however he additionally needed to dig deeper into the authenticity of the 18th century and of France.

Alan Menken photoGetty Pictures | Alberto E. Rodriguez

You’re now engaged on live-action variations of ‘Aladdin’ [release date: May 24, 2019] and ‘The Little Mermaid’ [release date: to be announced]. How are these being approached? 

Every director has their very own kind of biases about how they could need to strategy an adaptation. Man Ritchie [director of upcoming live-action “Aladdin,” launch date Might 24, 2019] just isn’t recognized for musicals in any respect. 

Man actually needs to infuse rather more of a up to date pop sensibility into the storytelling and the songs of “Aladdin.“ We’ve been doing that and that’s been a whole lot of enjoyable, however you stroll a line understanding that we need to keep as true as attainable to what audiences already know and love and are invested in.

On “Aladdin,” I’ve been working with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who’ve been my lyricists on the brand new songs, and I’m rewriting or updating a few of the iconic songs that Howard and I wrote.

For “The Little Mermaid,” I’ll be collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he, as I feel individuals know, is a large “Little Mermaid” fan. Rising up, he went to the identical faculty as my niece in New York and my sister stated, “Oh there’s this boy, Lin-Manuel Miranda—and he loves it [“The Little Mermaid“], and could you sign this poster for him?” 

He was insanely zealous about [“The Little Mermaid“] and also about musical theater and you can see that in who he’s become as a writer. The passion pours out of him. His son is named Sebastian, if that gives you an indication of how much of a fan he is.

Lin Manuel Miranda photoGetty Images | Dia Dipasupil

Wow, so you gave your autograph to a young, ‘Little Mermaid’-obsessed Lin-Manuel Miranda and now you’re working together on the new film? How cool—he’s so talented.  

And so smart. 

I think we’ll have a lot of fun writing this. We have not started yet. I believe the process will start probably within a few months. And I don’t know what the spots will be but I’m really excited about us working together on that. 

I think everyone is excited about that collaboration! 

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2’ came out recently and probably the most talked-about scene is when Vanellope [played by Sarah Silverman] has a run-in with all of the other Disney princesses. Soon after, she’s given her own princess ‘I Want’ song, ‘A Place Called Slaughter Race,’ which you wrote, and which, as Sarah herself said, is quite ‘subversive.’ 

It’s a little along the lines of the thing I did for “Sausage Party,” the Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg movie. A pair years in the past I wrote the opening quantity for it [Menken also scored the film]. I really feel like I used to be type of like a bit of discovered artwork put in for comedian functions. [Laughs.]

Sarah Silverman stated working with you was a dream come true for her. That should have been enjoyable for you too to work on that music together with her and with Gal [Gadot].

As quickly as we obtained into the room collectively I had heard Sarah was an enormous “Little Shop” fan so I went to the piano and began enjoying “Somewhere That’s Green,” and she or he did the entire music as an ideal Audrey actually inside 5 minutes of us assembly. After which in fact we set to work on her music. We had a blast within the studio and it was a whole lot of enjoyable and the success of it has been a fantastic shock. I’m actually happy.

Sarah Silverman photoGetty Pictures | Alberto E. Rodriguez

One of many issues that’s so particular concerning the tasks you’ve achieved and proceed to do is the best way that they bridge the generations with these new live-action movies bringing issues full circle for folks like me who’ve grown up on the animated movies, and now we’re doing the primary the animated, then live-action movie and stage variations with our youngsters. Are you having enjoyable doing a lot revisiting? Are you desperate to get a while to work on new unique tasks?

Sure, sure—I’m answering the second query. I’m desperate to go new, and I’ve new, right here and there. BUT, I’m additionally blessed that folks maintain wanting to return to the previous. One among my animated musicals is being tailored to the stage now. It is going to be introduced quickly, however I can’t share it but!

It’s “Mermaid” coming, it’s “Disenchanted” which is coming alongside. Apparently one other adaptation of “Little Shop of Horrors” is coming alongside. We’re speaking about a number of different animated [films] that I feel are going to return to the display. So yeah, there’s quite a bit happening.

So I assume the issue is basically that you simply have been simply too good from the beginning — no time for something new as a result of everybody needs you to maintain redoing the identical nice stuff everyone knows and love!

[Laughs.] I assume so. However, I get to put in writing new songs and work with new individuals and that’s all the time a whole lot of enjoyable.

I’ve two younger boys who’re huge followers of your music. How about some parenting recommendation: You’ve stated that as a toddler you have been extra fascinated by creating your personal music than working towards the songs assigned to you by academics. You’ve raised two daughters who’re artists and performers. What recommendation do you could have for folks who see a artistic spark of their youngsters? How do you nurture that and assist them with out being overbearing?  

Encourage them. Reward them when it’s applicable. Don’t overpraise them when it’s not. Encourage them to all the time be doing one thing new. Encourage them to understand how valuable their expertise is. And hold serving to them go onto the subsequent factor and the subsequent factor and the subsequent factor.

Alan Menken children photoGetty Photographs | Frederick M. Brown

No matter it’s, you’ve acquired to do what you’re enthusiastic about since you adore it, and never since you need a outcome. After which simply give them freedom to discover. Don’t attempt to reduce to a full flowering earlier than their time as a result of typically it doesn’t occur till you’re in your 30s or 40s. Simply be certain that the factor they need to do all day is the factor they do.

I used to be captivated with music, I simply hated to apply. However nonetheless, it was necessary that I discovered primary expertise. I might study the start of a Beethoven sonata and I might simply make up the remainder of it myself.

So don’t make them keep inside the strains an excessive amount of …

However remind them that there are strains! They know. They’ll be an excellent companion with you on what they want. 

What can the viewers look ahead to out of your new one-man present, “A Whole New World of Alan Menken”?

Principally, I speak by way of my life and my profession and we now have three screens of visuals. I select the songs which are inevitably the highlights of my profession they usually’re what individuals know. I play and work together with the viewers and bounce up and down on the piano and knock myself out for about two hours and have enjoyable.

Initially revealed on Make It Higher.

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