Menken makes another voyage to Disney world


Alan Menken strikes again. The prolific composer has yet another No. 1 Disney boxoffice hit with the family romance "Enchanted," which debuted atop the domestic boxoffice with an estimated $50 million during the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

"Enchanted" spells magic for Disney and Menken, who also composed hit scores and songs for the studio's "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid" and many others. And a new production of "Little Mermaid" is set to open on Broadway as soon as the stagehands union strike ends.

Menken says his relationship with Disney dates back to 1986, when he worked on "Little Shop of Horrors" with famed lyricist Howard Ashman. David Geffen, one of the producers on "Horrors," introduced the duo to the then-regime at Disney, including Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

"(Disney) was looking for good people who understood how to translate song material to a dramatic situation," Menken recalls. "While working on 'Little Shop of Horrors' with Howard, I had become very conscious of picking a very specific musical vocabulary for each project -- a style and tone that informed how we told the story. It remains a part of my creative (process) post-Howard." (Ashman died in 1991.)

Menken points to "Aladdin" as a good example of "musical vocabulary."

" 'Aladdin' had two distinct styles: one pastiche of Middle Eastern music, one pastiche of American jazz," he says. "We forged a relationship between those two."

Having worked with such lyricists as Ashman, Tim Rice and Stephen Schwartz, Menken says he's "very collaborative" on all levels of the music.

He and Schwartz, who had worked together on Disney's "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," worked side by side on "Enchanted," which covers a number of musical genres.

"It really varied because (the film) starts out in the purist animated world of early Walt (Disney) like 'Snow White' and 'Sleeping Beauty' and ends in a totally contemporary world with pop music," Menken says.

He notes that the film's "Happy Working Song," for example, is reminiscent of "Whistle While You Work" from "Snow White."

"Enchanted" director Kevin Lima also had a hand in song direction. "In some cases," Menken says, "Kevin had a very specific idea and even knew the title he wanted, like with the song 'So Close.' "

In the coming months, Menken will be working on an original cast album for "Little Mermaid" as well as stage adaptations of "Leap of Faith," "Sister Act," "Newsies" and "King David."