In the latest episode of the Disney’s “For Scores” podcast, EGOT-certified composer Alan Menken looks back at his history with the studio, for whom he composed songs and scores for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” He also reveals there will be at least four new songs composed and written for the live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”
Says Menken: “At first, Lin-Manuel Miranda was struggling to do Alan Menken-style songs, and he felt like, walking in Howard Ashman’s shoes was a daunting prospect. Then we wrote some songs that were in Lin’s wheelhouse and for me, walking in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s shoes was a daunting prospect, but we had a blast.”
In a two-part special, Menken speaks with host — and Variety contributor — Jon Burlingame about meeting fellow composer and songwriter Howard Ashman on an off-Broadway hit (“Little Shop of Horrors”). “Howard had very strong feelings about making sure that we were always driving story forward, and always stylistically rooted in a world,” says Menken. “Howard would really educate the animators, and sit and talk to them about how songs should drive a story.”
Menken also shares a story about collaborating with Ashman on “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” simultaneously, unaware Ashman was battling AIDS. A musical partner and friend, Ashman had completed the music and lyrical work, but died shortly before winning a posthumous best original song Oscar for “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty and the Beast.”
Part 2 features Menken discussing how he finished working on “Aladdin” alongside British lyricist Tim Rice. The segment also discusses the surprising viability of musicals that were either commercial or critical disappointments, notably “Newsies” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which went on to enjoy new life in stage versions.
Menken also shared a personal story about a young Lin-Manuel Miranda on the podcast. “I would hear about Lin-Manuel Miranda when he was a little kid because my niece went to the Hunter school and she was a classmate of Lin’s,” Menken shares. “I would hear about [him] from my sister Faye, who would say, ‘This boy Lin, he loves ‘Little Mermaid’ so much. Could you sign this poster? I remember signing a poster to Lin that said, ‘To Lin, please stop kissing Jenny’s feet. Alan Menken.'”
The “For Scores” podcast series is produced by Maria Kleinman for Disney Music Group in association with Treefort Media, a Los Angeles-based podcast company with a mission to expand imagination through premium audio storytelling. The episodes are available to hear or download on all podcast hosting platforms or listen below.