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Disney’s Composer

Lawrence Bush
July 21, 2017

Alan Menken, composer of scores for Walt Disney animations including The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and Pocahontas (1995), as well as for films and Broadway musicals that include Little Shop of Horrors (1982 on Broadway, ’86 on film), Newsies (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), and Sister Act (2009), was born in New York on this date in 1949. Setting out in his career to be a rock star or at least a recording musician, he became attracted to writing musicals in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop and wrote several unproduced shows before co-creating Little Shop of Horrors with Howard Ashman. Menken has earned two Academy Awards, eleven Grammys, and a Tony. He is currently working with Hamilton songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda on a remake of The Little Mermaid. The original “quickly made $84 million on its initial domestic release, winning two Academy Awards and heralding the renaissance of Disney’s storied animated franchise,” writes Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune, “which, after the critic Frank Rich suggested that the best Broadway musicals of the early 1990s were, in fact, cartoon movies, would in turn bring about the 1990s renaissance of Broadway as a family destination for musical theater. . . . The huge success and fame of those stage musicals would, in turn, bring about the present-moment renaissance of the Disney animated movies of the 1980s by recasting them all as live-action features.”

“At this point of my life, composing is like turning on a faucet for me. I just don’t want the water to go blasting out. I want to direct it. Most things that I write are in very specific forms. A score will have a shape and profile, and then the more emotional and intimate moments will come.” --Alan Menken

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.