Alan Menken is one of the most successful songwriters of the modern Musical Theatre era. He is an eight-time Oscar Winner, eleven time Grammy winner, and has composed some of the most notable songs and scores of the last thirty years.
Alan Irwin Menken was born on 22nd July 1949 in New York. His father, Norman, was a Dentist, his mother, Judith a housewife. He had an early fascination of music studying both the piano and violin but didn't relish the hours of practising so, when heads were turned, he would develop ideas of his own. He was a pre-med student at NYU before turning his attention to the one thing that focussed his mind, music, once he graduated. He joined the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop to appease his parents. The group included Maury Yeston (Titanic, Phantom) and Susan Birkenhead (Working, Jelly's Last Jam) and this is where Alan began to learn his art of writing for Musical Theatre. He met Howard Ashman, his long time collaborator, through Maury Yeston, as Ashman was looking for a composer for his project God Bless You, Mr Rosewater in 1979. When they began writing Little Shop of Horrors based on the B-Movie of the same name. Ashman has always wanted to write a show based on the film. The original score that was created was very different to the songs that became the hit, they completely re-wrote the score to utilise the ideas of 'doo-wop' and the new score was created. It opened at the WPA Theatre in New York in 1982 and instantly gathered momentum. The up-beat nature of the songs, including "Suddenly Seymour", "Somehwere That's Grean" "Dentist!" and "Feed Me (Git It)" offset beautifully against the macabre and comedic plot-line of the plant that seeks world domination.
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were approached in 1987 by then head of Walt Disney Pictures, Jeffrey Katzenberg, to work on a new feature film for Disney. Their collaboration on The Little Mermaid marked a renaissance in the popularity of Walt Disney's animation work, which had been deteriorating since the successes of Jungle Book and Mary Poppins in the 1960s. Suddenly Menken and Ashman's songs had invigorated people to the Disney name again. With it's lilting "Part of Your World" and the Oscar Winning Calypso "Under The Sea" The Little Mermaid marked the renaissance of the Disney name and over the subsequent years Menken has been a powerful force with his melodies and scores. On Oscar Night in 1990, when they received the first of their Oscars Ashman took Menken to one side to explain that he was ill and dying. They were already working on Beauty and the Beast at that time and continued to produce another Oscar winning score and song. The next project Aladdin sadly saw the passing of Howard Ashman in 1991, and therefore lyricist Tim Rice was brought in to complete the project, creating the lyrics for the next Oscar winner "A Whole New World". Since the passing of Ashman Menken has worked with several collabortors. The 1992 movie of Newsies was lyricised by Jack Feldman, whilst Tim Rice again provided the lyrics for the additional songs created for the Broadway opening of Beauty and the Beast in 1994. During the middle years of the 1990s Menken worked with Stephen Schwartz in creating the songs for both The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas, the latter of which again provided Alan with two Oscar wins, one for best score and the other for the song "Colors of the Wind". He teamed up with David Zippell to create the Gospel based score for the movie Hercules whilst also creating King David with Tim Rice which was the inaugural performance at the refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, after plans of it being premiered in Israel were cancelled. Since then he has created the scores and songs for Home on the Range and Tangled with collaborator Glenn Slater, whilst Enchanted was created again with Stephen Schwartz. With the success of the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast in 1994 Alan has also focussed on turning the movie works into stage shows, with runs of Der Glockner von Notre Dame which was a German production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1999, as well as collaborating to produce new songs for the staging of The Little Mermaid in 2008, Newsies in 2012 and most recently with the opening of the stage version of Aladdin in 2014.
In 1990 Menken was asked by Sylvester Stallone to create the lyrics to the song "Measure of a Man", the end-credit song for the movie Rocky V, for which the music was composed by Elton John. Wierd Romance was created in 1992 with lyricist David Spencer. In recent years his most frequest collaborator has been Glenn Slater, with whom he created the musicals Sister Act based on the 1992 movie which was opened in 2009 and Leap of Faith which premiered in 2010.
List of Musicals and Movies for which Alan Menken has composed songs;
God Help The Outcasts | Home | Beauty & the Beast | Part of Your World | When Will My Life Begin | A Change in Me | Colors of the Wind | Just around the Riverbend | I won't Say (I'm in Love) | Watch What Happens | The World Above | Happy Working Song