On July 26, composer and songwriter Alan Menken officially became an EGOT — joining 16 others in achieving the rare distinction of having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award — via his Daytime Emmy for outstanding original song in a children’s, young adult, or animated program for “Waiting in the Wings” from Disney’s “Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.”
Joining the likes of John Legend, Marvin Hamlish and Robert Lopez in the honor, Menken spoke with Variety on the heels of his historic moment.
So… how does it feel to be an EGOT?
I didn’t take it on as a life goal, but I have to admit that since it didn’t happen after a few times, I thought it wasn’t important. When it finally happened and I got the call saying I had finally won, I was surprised at how excited I was. On some deep level, it certainly does mean something to me. It’s such a cliche, but there are so many factors that go into receiving awards, you have to take it with a grain of salt. Given the attention that was paid to “When is Menken going to get his EGOT?” We can move on now.
Less than a decade ago when you started writing for TV, you described feeling like an outsider to the medium. But here you are, successful in Broadway, film and TV.
I guess I’ve become a bit of a veteran on TV having worked first on “Sesame Street,” “Galivant” and now “Tangled.” I guess they finally said, “Give Menken his Emmy.” I don’t know how it all works.
The Emmy win aligned nicely with your birthday.
I had a flood of emails, texts, calls and social media messages. I tried to reply to them all, so it was a lot of “Thank you so much,” “I’m so happy to hear from you” and it meant a lot to me.
The business aspect of what we do is so fueled by moments like that. People get excited and they want to know you’re excited. It’s a nice celebration of one’s career and work, and you can’t deny that it feels good.
What do you remember of your previous Oscar experiences?
The story I love telling is when [Howard Ashman and I] were nominated [in 1986] for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” from “The Little Shop of Horrors.” I remember going to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and being in the middle of this very long row. I thought, “If we win, I’m going to have to fight my way out of the row, it’s going to take me ten minutes just to get to the aisle.”
The year of “The Little Mermaid” [in 1990], my seat was right on the aisle and the expectation was very likely to be a win. It was terrifying. I remember getting up and feeling like a donkey had kicked me in the back. It was exhilarating. But that was also the night when Howard broached the topic of letting me know that he had AIDS and that was very intense.
It was an incredible time. It was this sense of this out-of-body experience. Who was I to be here as this Broadway writer and how did I become an Oscar winner?
What about winning the Grammy for “The Little Mermaid” in 1991?
Going to the Grammy Awards was different. But the biggest Grammy win was winning song of the year [for “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin”] because everyone was shocked. It was that feeling of, “Really? Me?” We were with all these rock stars. It was a thrilling night. I think we were the only song not performed live and that’s how little we were expected to win. We were up against Meat Loaf, Billy Joel and Neil Young, so winning was incredible.
And taking home the Tony for “Newsies” in 2012?
The previous award I had won for that was the Razzie so to win the Tony was an incredible hoot.
And as news arrives of closures like “Phantom of the Opera” in London, how are you feeling about the future state of theater?
It’s always going to prevail. I’m sure things will resume around the world, but I’m afraid our country will be the last to come back. It’s a symptom of the political divide in our country, not to mention the sense of entitlement around the “concept of freedom.” New York is doing great. We’ve gone from being the epicenter to having a very low infection rate.
In this time, we’re continuing to write shows and develop musicals. We’ve even had a reading of a musical where each of the actors was in their Zoom window. They could see one another and hear one another. They could sing. So, we are finding new ways to write and develop shows. I expect that once this pandemic has passed, a lot of the things that we have learned to use during this time, the tools will be some of the staples of how we work.
What new projects are you working on?
I’m excited about the projects I’m doing. I’m working on “Disenchanted” and a new “Beauty and the Beast” prequel, “The Little Town.” I’ve also been working on the new animated picture “Spellbound” with John Lasseter. And I’m doing a bunch of Broadway shows.
And there’s “The Little Mermaid” with Rob Marshall.
I can’t wait to get back to that.