Although he loved music from an early age and studied both violin and piano as a child, Alan Menken seemed bound for a medical career until he wisely switched to music during his pre-med course. After attending the Steinhardt School (part of New York University) he enrolled at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in New York. His early career saw him performing in clubs, bands and composing advertising jingles before scoring and writing the lyrics for the New York production of The Present Tense in 1979. Later the same year he and lyricist Howard Ashman collaborated on the off-Broadway production of God Bless You, Mr Rosewater which was based on Kurt Vonnegut's award winning novel of the same name. A cult success, the show ran at the WPA Theatre before transferring to the Entermedia Theatre at 2nd Avenue and 12th. After two more 1981 solo outings with House Music and Real Life Funnies Menken and Ashman teamed-up again to write the off-Broadway rock musical production (again at the WPA Theatre) of Little Shop Of Horrors, which was based on the 1960 Roger Corman movie. The 1982 show was a huge success and with a spectacular run of five years became the longest running and highest grossing musical in off-Broadway history. Both the New York and London productions garnered awards, the former winning the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical while the latter won the Best Musical and the Best Score categories at the London Evening Standard Awards. When Muppet maestro Frank Oz turned the musical into a film in 1986 the original score was composed by Miles Goodman, Menken and Ashman's songs were still featured and 'Mean Green Mother From Outer Space' even gained an Oscar nomination.
Flushed with success the pair's next collaboration was for Disney's 1989 animated movie The Little Mermaid with Menken composing the score and co-writing the songs with Ashman. The resulting Little Mermaid album went on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score while the irritatingly popular song 'Under The Sea' won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The movie marked the start of a long association with Disney and in 1991 the duo surpassed their previous success with Beauty And The Beast that won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Score and a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition. The duet of Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson performed title track and it peaked at No 9 on both sides of the Atlantic and won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in addition to receiving two Grammy Awards. Sadly Ashman never saw the completed film or the accolades it brought him as he died from an AIDS related illness on 14th March 1991.
With lyricist Jack Feldman, Menken scored Disney's live action film Newsies in 1992 (the UK title was The News Boys) and although the movie was poorly received he had already been working on his next project with Ashman before the lyricist's death. After losing his friend and long time collaborator Menken turned to celebrated British lyricist Sir Tim Rice and together they completed work on the score and songs for Disney's 1992 animation Aladdin. The movie yielded the classic 'A Whole New World' which, sung by Peabo Bryson (again) and Regina Belle claimed the top spot in the USA charts in 1993, and, along with the score yielded two Oscars and five Grammys. Subsequent Disney films had Menken working with a number of lyricists, with Stephen Schwartz he composed Pocahontas (1995) (which won two Oscars), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996) and Enchanted (2007). A collaboration with Glenn Slater produced Home On The Range (2004) and Tangled (2010) while with David Zippel he created Hercules (1997). Other than his complete scores Menken has written or co-written individual songs for movies, most notably 'Measure Of A Man' sung by Elton John for Rocky V (1990) but also 'My Christmas Tree' for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992), 'Star Spangled Man' for Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and 'Howling At The Moon' for Jock The Hero Dog (2012). Menken also returned to his stage roots with 1992's sci-fi musical Weird Romance that he composed with David Spencer plus a seasonal musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol co-written with Lynn Ahrens that ran between 1994 and 2003 at New York's Madison Square Gardens.
Despite success coming relatively late (he was thirty-two when Little Shop Of Horrors opened and forty when The Little Mermaid premiered) Alan Menken has established himself as a popular and highly successful composer for stage and screen and with eight Academy Awards to his name he is presently second only to the late Alfred Newman in holding the most music related Oscars.
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