Alan Menken has composed some of the most beloved songs and musical scores of our time. His work has introduced an entire generation to the world of musicals; both stage and screen.
Born on July 22nd, 1949, Alan grew up as a child of the 60’s, dreaming of a career as a singer-songwriter, while assuming he’d become a dentist like most of the other men in his family. While enjoying a spectacularly unsuccessful stint as a pre-med student at NYU, he was introduced to the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, run by the great conductor, Lehman Engel. There, Alan found his calling as a musical theater composer-lyricist.
Along with performing on the New York cabaret circuit and writing and producing jingles and Sesame Street songs, some of the musicals and revues that Menken wrote songs for in this period are Atina: Evil Queen of the Galaxy, Real Life Funnies, Patch Patch Patch, Personals, Diamonds, Kicks and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
His first collaboration with Howard Ashman, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, opened in 1979 to excellent reviews and modest box office. In 1982, their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors, became the highest grossing Off-Broadway show ever, toured the world, won countless theater awards and resulted in a movie musical that earned Menken his first Oscar nomination for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space.”
On the strength of the success of Little Shop, Alan and Howard were hired to write the songs for the Disney animated feature, The Little Mermaid, for which Alan also wrote the score. The result was an Academy Award for the song Under the Sea,” a nomination for “Kiss the Girl,” and the Academy Award for Best Score. Beauty and the Beast followed, earning Menken two more Oscars for Best Song (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Best Score, with two other songs (“Be Our Guest” and “Belle”) nominated. After Ashman passed away, in 1991, with Aladdin not yet completed, Alan began his collaboration with Tim Rice, to write the remaining songs. They won the Best Song Oscar and the Song of the Year Grammy for “A Whole New World,” which also reached # 1 on the Billboard Charts. Menken won Best Score again and “Friend Like Me,” written with Ashman, received a nomination as well.
In that same year, Alan’s live action film musical, Newsies, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, was released. Three more animated musicals followed, between 1994 and 1997; Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and Hercules, with lyrics by David Zippel, with two more Academy Awards, for Best Song (“Colors of the Wind”) and Best Score (Pocahontas), and two more nominations, for Best Score (Hunchback) and Best Song (“Go the Distance.”)
The success of the animated musicals lead Alan back to Broadway with the stage musical of Beauty and the Beast (lyrics by Ashman and Rice), which ran for 13 years, and Madison Square Garden’s A Christmas Carol (lyrics by Lynn Ahrens), which ran for 10 years. Menken and Rice’s oratorio, King David was the premiere production at the newly renovated New Amsterdam Theater in 1997. That same year Alan returned to his Off-Broadway roots with a science fiction musical at the WPA Theater, Weird Romance (lyrics by David Spencer). A stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened in 1999 in Berlin, as Der Glockner Yon Notre Dame, and stands as that city’s longest running musical.
In 2002, Alan Menken’s 7th Disney animated musical, Home on the Range, opened. And in 2007, Menken wrote the score and reunited with Stephen Schwartz to write the songs for Enchanted, earning three more Oscar nominations for “Happy Working Song,” “That’s How You Know” and “So Close.”
Currently Menken is represented on Broadway by the new stage musical of The Little Mermaid, for which he and lyricist Glenn Slater have just received a Tony nomination for Best Original Score (Menken’s 2nd nomination.) Over the years, Alan has earned 18 Academy Award nominations, winning 8 times. He has 10 Grammy Awards and 7 Golden Globes and yet, at the end of the day, Alan considers his greatest achievement and deepest satisfaction to be his enduring marriage to the love of his life, Janis and their two wonderful daughters, Anna and Nora.