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How does one refresh the tunes of a tale as old as time?
That assignment went to Grammy, Tony and Oscar winner Alan Menken, who composed the music for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast — the 1991 animated classic, the 1994 Broadway musical and the live-action remake directed by Bill Condon, out Friday.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Menken about rediscovering lost lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, writing new songs and “just shutting up” about that gay character.
Why not use any songs from the Broadway adaptation?
There was an open question until we got into it. But the initial six songs from the animated musical were clearly going in. There were two [from the stage production] that I would’ve loved to use: “Human Again,” which Howard and I initially wrote for the animated movie. I love that song, but it was a nine-minute number and problematic because of the logic of the story. So instead, we used “Something There,” since both deal with Belle and the Beast falling in love and everyone anticipating becoming human again. The other one, of course, is Beast’s “If I Can’t Love Her.” The Beast has driven Belle away and now that he can’t love her, who could he ever love? It’s a moment of just crying out to the heavens. But that song was put in specifically for the act break of a Broadway show; in a film, people aren’t going out to go to the bathroom and get drinks.
There’s also a song in the Broadway musical called “Home,” which is not in the movie, but Bill wanted to use the theme in the score of the scene when Belle first enters her room in the castle. I was just thrilled.
Are you someone who checks how people are reacting online to a new clip with your music, like Emma Watson singing the overture?
If someone points it out to me. For a while now, I try to ignore the hoopla, because if you buy into that, you have to buy into the criticism. All you can do is put your work out there and move on; you just never know what will come. When Newsies first came out, it just crash-landed with a thud; it won a Razzie for worst song of the year and I felt such embarrassment. Fast-forward and it’s a hit on Broadway and I win a Tony for the score! I feel sorry for people who hang on to their triumphs or get obsessed with their failures. It’s just such a waste of energy.
What are you working on next?
A lot of film projects. Apparently, we’re talking about a live-action movie-musical of The Little Mermaid. I had one meeting with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Marc Platt and that was it. It was great. I don’t know who’s directing it, I don’t know who’s writing it, but they’re tied up in London for Mary Poppins Returns. I’ve known Lin-Manuel for much of his life; when he was a kid, he went to school with my niece.
At Disney, there’s also the Aladdin live-action movie, a developing sequel to Enchanted, and the Tangled TV show, and at Warner Bros., there’s apparently going to be another Little Shop of Horrors adaptation. And I’ve been working on an original musical for Universal [with Josh Gad and Jeremy Gerelick] — Steven Schwartz and I wrote a whole score and lots of songs. It’s a lot of fun. And also, my first animated movie in over a decade, but nothing’s greenlighted.
Is there ever a past work you wouldn’t want to revisit for a live-action adaptation?
Well, if it’s one of my projects and they want to do it, it’s sort of a shotgun marriage — I have to do it because it’s my baby. My favorite thing is a brand-new project from scratch, because you really never know how they’re going to come to life. Going back for the third and fourth time to old ones is very gratifying, but it’s not my favorite use of my creativity. And when I do that, I really count on having strong collaborators who share their vision of where they’d like to see this go, like Bill Condon, and that makes it easier and more satisfying to me than if I had to do it on my own. I don’t know where I’d go if I alone had a third go-around on one of those projects.
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