Happy Birthday Alan Menken!

Every Friday look for a column written by The Broadway Critic Blog’s newest columnist, Tyler Martins (@mrtylermartins). His passionate love for Sondheim will probably dominate the conversation, but his love for musical theatre is palpable.

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Disney movies. It is not surprising that Disney’s animated musicals were my favorite.  The way they made me suspend belief and burst out into song, the way the stories unfolded before my eyes with sweeping melodies and chilling harmonies. Whether I was transfixed by the world under the sea, or amazed by a magical rose, and flying carpets, the music within each of these movies always stayed with me. There is one man who is responsible for that music, for that magic, and that man is Academy Award winner (and Tony Award nominee) Alan Menken. Today, Alan Menken celebrates his 62nd Birthday.

Alan Menken composed the music to many animated films, such as “The Little Mermaid.” As I child, I would watch “The Little Mermaid” just to hear the opening measures to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” sung by the devilish and villainous Ursula.  (Ursula happens to be one of my favorite Disney villains, thanks to this song. Besides, she’s cunning, ambitious and sassy, and who doesn’t love sass?)

When Ursula gave me nightmares, I would turn to another Menken film: “Beauty and the Beast.” One of my fondest childhood memories was my mother putting me to sleep with the title song, sung by the transcendent Angela Lansbury. It was only recently that I discovered that she was the voice of Mrs. Potts. I had grown to love Angie when I first entered the theater world. I loved Angie’s Rose, Aurelia, Lovett, etc. But now, my love for her runs deeper.

Perhaps the most famous Disney tune of all time, “A Whole New World,” comes from the Menken-penned “Aladdin.” Like many of Menken’s hit animated films (including “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”), “Aladdin” was adapted for the stage and opened last night, at 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. (Read review here.)

Also receiving a stage adaptation is another of Menken’s films, “Newsies.” “Newsies” was a total box-office failure but gained a cult following and this September, Paper Mill Playhouse (only a few miles away from me, in Millburn, New Jersey) will offer the musical as part of its season subscription. Featuring a book by Harvey Fierstein, more original music by Alan Menken and direction by Jeff Kalhoun, “Newsies: The Musical” has generated a large amount of buzz, hinting at possible future plans for the show. Jeremy Jordan will lead the cast as Jack Kelly, the role originated by Christian Bale in the 1992 film.

Menken recently received high acclaim for his score to “Tangled,” Disney’s latest animated film. “Tangled” is the story of Rapunzel, and stars Mandy Moore, Zachary Quinto and Broadway Diva Donna Murphy as Disney’s very own animated Mamma Rose, Mother Gottel. Menken received his 14th Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Song for “I See the Light.”

Menken hasn’t only been composing for the silver screen – he’s been working for the stage as well. The musical that launched Alan Menken to fame is one of my favorite works, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Produced Off-Broadway in 1982, the show was based on the 1960 black comedy film of the same name. The musical was later made into a film to critical acclaim, starring Ricky Moranis and original stage Audrey, Ellen Greene. The musical is performed routinely around the world, and was revived on Broadway in 2003 starring Hunter Foster and Kerry Butler. (I wonder if his Dentist father was anything like the sadistic dentist in the musical.)

Just this past Broadway season, Alan Menken penned the score to the stage adaptation of the hit film SISTER ACT, receiving a Tony Award Nomination for Best Musical. (Read our London review here and Broadway review here.) The show opened in London to rave reviews in 2009 and is currently starring Patina Miller as funky Deloris and the ever-perfect Victoria Clark as Mother Superior, both receiving Tony Award Nominations for their performances.

While Alan Menken may not have won a Tony Award for Best Original Score or for Best Musical, he isn’t quitting yet. Currently, he is working with lyricist Glenn Slater on a stage adaptation of “Leap of Faith”, about the fraudulent Christian faith healer Jonas Nightengale. LEAP OF FAITH made its world premiere in Los Angeles, starring Raul Esparza as Nightengale and Brooke Shields as Marva McGowan, the woman whose love redeems Nightengale. Plans for a Broadway production are in the works, although no official announcements have been made.

Celebrate Alan Menken’s birthday today by watching your favorite film, or listening to your favorite Menken score. In the comments below, share (and post videos) of your favorite song, or moment from an Alan Menken score, film or stage work.

Happy Birthday, Alan Menken! Thank you for the music that filled my childhood with joy and allowed my imagination to grow wings and fly among the stars.

Wish Alan Menken a Happy Birthday on Twitter! @AIMenken

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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Alan Menken!

  1. One of my favorite Menken songs comes from his lesser known show “Weird Romance.” The second of the 2 one acts, “Her Pilgrim Soul,” contains an exquisite ballad called “Someone Else Is Waiting.” Beautifully acted in the original production by Jonathan Hadary and Ellen Greene, it just soars. I caught show this entirely by chance at the WPA Theatre back in 1992 and it remains a cherished memory. Check out the OCR if you don’t know it.

    1. Right! Ellen Greene stared in his shows before LITTLE SHOP. Interesting, is it even in print still? I’ll have to check it out now based on your recc- you know me and obscurities.

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