Alan Menken

Alan Menken

Menken in 2013
Background information
Born (1949-07-22) July 22, 1949
New York City, New York, U.S.
  • Composer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Website Official website

Alan Irwin Menken[1] (born July 22, 1949) is an American musical theatre and film composer and pianist. Menken is best known for his scores for films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. His scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas have each won him two Academy Awards. He also composed the scores for Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Newsies (1992), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Enchanted (2007), Tangled (2010) and Sausage Party (2016), among others. He is also known for his work on musical theatre works for Broadway and elsewhere. Some of these are based on his Disney films, but other stage hits include Little Shop of Horrors (1982), A Christmas Carol (1994) and Sister Act (2009).

Menken has collaborated with such lyricists as Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Glenn Slater, Stephen Schwartz and David Zippel. With eight Academy Award wins (four each for Best Score and Best Song), Menken is the second most prolific Oscar winner in the music categories after Alfred Newman, who has nine Oscars. He has also won eleven Grammy Awards, a Tony Award and other honors.

Early life

Alan Irwin Menken was born on July 22, 1949 at French Hospital in New York City, to Judith and Norman Menken. His father was a boogie-woogie piano-playing dentist, and his mother was an actress, dancer and playwright.[2][3] Menken developed an interest in music at an early age, taking piano and violin lessons. He began to compose at an early age.[4] At age 9, at the New York Federation of Music Clubs Junior Composers Contest, his original composition "Bouree" was rated Superior and Excellent by the judges.[5]

He attended New Rochelle High School in New Rochelle, New York, and graduated in 1967. Menken remembers: "I'd make up my own Bach fugues and Beethoven sonatas because I was bored with the piano and I didn't want to practice; so I'd go off on tangents".[6] He then enrolled at New York University.[7] He graduated with a degree in Musicology in 1971 from the university's Steinhardt School. Menken recalled: "First, I was pre-med. I thought I'd be a dentist like my Dad. Finally, I got a degree in music, but I didn't care about musicology. It wasn't until I joined BMI Workshop ... under Lehman Engel, and walked into a room with other composers that I knew this was it."[6] Menken noted that "Before college, I was writing songs to further my dream of being the next Bob Dylan. A lot of guitar songs – I was composing on piano before that."[8] After college, he attended the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.[9]


Early career

After graduating, Menken's plan was to become either a rock star or a recording artist. His interest in writing musicals increased when he joined the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Musical Theatre Workshop, and was mentored by Lehman Engel.[9] From 1974 to 1978, he showcased various BMI workshop works, such as Midnight, Apartment House (lyric by Muriel Robinson), Conversations with Pierre,[9]Harry the Rat and Messiah on Mott Street (lyrics by David Zippel). According to Menken, during this period, he "worked as a ballet and modern dance accompanist, a musical director for club acts, a jingle writer, arranger, a songwriter for Sesame Street and a vocal coach. He performed his material at clubs like The Ballroom, Reno Sweeny and Tramps."[10] In 1976, John Wilson reported for The New York Times that members of Engel's BMI Workshop began performing as part of the "Broadway at the Ballroom" series: "The opening workshop program ... featured Maury Yeston and Alan Menken, both playing their piano accompaniment and singing songs they have written for potential musicals."[11] Wilson reviewed a performance at the Ballroom in 1977 where Menken accompanied a singer: "In the current cabaret world, a piano accompanist is no longer expected to merely play piano for a singer. More and more, pianists can be heard joining in vocally, harmonizing with the singer, creating a background of shouts and exclamations or even doing brief passages of solo singing."[12]

Menken contributed material to revues like New York's Back in Town, Big Apple Country, The Present Tense (1977),[13] Real Life Funnies (Off-Broadway, 1981),[14] Diamonds (Off-Broadway, 1984), and Personals (Off-Off-Broadway, 1985).[15] His revue Patch, Patch, Patch ran at the West Bank Cafe in New York City in 1979 and featured Chip Zien. The New York Times reviewer, Mel Gussow, wrote: "The title song ... refers to a life's passage. According to Alan Menken ... after age 30 it is a downhill plunge."[16]

Menken wrote several shows that were not produced, including Atina, Evil Queen of the Galaxy (1980), with lyrics by Steve Brown. He also wrote The Thorn with lyrics by Brown, which was commissioned by Divine in 1980. This was a parody of the film The Rose, but they could not raise the money to have it produced.[17] He collaborated with Howard Ashman in an uncompleted musical called Babe (c. 1981),[18][19] with Tom Eyen in Kicks: The Showgirl Musical (1984),[20] and with David Rogers in The Dream in Royal Street (c. 1981), which was an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.[19] Menken contributed music for the film The Line (1980), directed by Robert J. Siegel.[21]

Breakthrough years

Menken finally achieved success as a composer when playwright Howard Ashman chose him and Engel to write the music for his musical adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The musical opened in 1979 at the WPA Theater[22] to excellent reviews[22] and modest box office. It transferred after several months to the Off-Broadway Entermedia Theater, where it ran for an additional six weeks.[23][24][25][26]

Menken and Ashman felt that the 14-person cast of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was too big for an Off-Broadway production. They therefore wrote their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors, with a cast of only 9 performers, including a puppeteer. This musical is based on the 1960 black comedy film The Little Shop of Horrors. It opened at WPA Theater in 1982 to warm reviews. It moved to the Orpheum Theatre in the East Village, Manhattan, where it ran for five years. The musical set the box-office record for highest grossing Off-Broadway show of all time. It toured around the world, won theater awards and was adapted as a 1986 musical film starring Rick Moranis that earned Menken and Ashman their first Oscar nomination for the song "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space".[27] For his body of work in musical theatre, he was awarded the BMI Career Achievement Award in 1983.

In 1987, Menken and lyricist David Spencer's adaptation, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, based on the 1959 novel of the same name, was produced in Philadelphia. After substantial re-writes, it was produced in 2015 in Montreal.[28][29] In 1992, the WPA Theatre produced Menken's Weird Romance, also with lyrics by Spencer.[30] Menken's musical based on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent, debuted at Madison Square Garden's Paramount Theater in 1994.[31] The show proved successful and was an annual New York holiday event.[32]

Disney Renaissance and later films

On the strength of the success of Little Shop of Horrors, Menken and Ashman were hired by Walt Disney Studios to write the music for The Little Mermaid (1989). The challenge was to create an animated musical film of this Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale that could sit alongside the Disney classics Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. The Little Mermaid opened to critical and commercial success and signaled a new Disney era called the Disney Renaissance.[33] The film gave them their first Oscar win: Best Song for the song "Under the Sea". Menken also won the 1989 Oscar for Best Score.[7][34]

Menken and Ashman's Beauty and the Beast garnered them three 1991 Oscar nominations for Best Song, winning for its title song.[34] Menken won another Oscar for Best Score. The two were working on Aladdin at the time of Ashman's death in 1991. Subsequently, Menken went to collaborate with Tim Rice to finish the songs for the film. The film won an Oscar in 1992 for Best Song: "A Whole New World".[34] Menken also won the Oscar for Best Score. Menken's live action musical film Newsies, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, was released in 1992. Three more animated musical films followed. Menken collaborated with Stephen Schwartz for Pocahontas, for which the two won two Oscars: Best Song and Best Musical or Comedy Score. In 1996, the same musical team created the songs, and Menken, the score, for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In 1997, Menken reunited with his early collaborator, David Zippel, for his last animated musical film in the series, Hercules.[35]

Menken also wrote the music for the Michael J. Fox vehicle Life with Mikey (1993),[36] the holiday film Noel (2004)[37] and Mirror Mirror (2012).[38] His other film scores for Disney have included Home on the Range (2004), the Tim Allen remake of The Shaggy Dog (2006), Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010).

With eight Academy Awards (four each for best score and best song), only composer Alfred Newman (nine wins) and Walt Disney (22 wins) have received more Oscars than Menken. He is tied for third place with late costume designer Edith Head. He currently holds the record for the most wins for a living person. He was named a Disney Legend in 2001.[39]

Return to musical theatre

Menken debuted on Broadway with a musical theatre adaptation of Beauty and the Beast that opened in 1994 and ran for 13 years before closing in 2007. In 1997, he collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on a musical, King David, based on the biblical character, which was performed in a concert version on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Little Shop of Horrors played on Broadway from 2003 to 2004.[40]

He next created the stage version of The Little Mermaid, which played on Broadway from 2008 to 2009 and for which he received a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Score.[40] Menken's stage adaptation of Sister Act premiered in London in 2009, and opened on Broadway in 2011. He was nominated for another Tony Award for Best Score.[41] Menken received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.[42] In December 2010, he was a guest on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!.[43]

In 2012, Menken won a Tony Award for Best Score for his musical adaptation of Newsies, which ran until 2014. He also wrote the music for Leap of Faith, which had a brief run on Broadway in 2012. His stage adaptation of Aladdin opened on Broadway in 2014, earning him another Tony nomination for Best Score.[40] In 2013, he was a guest at the annual Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and was honored with the Junior Theater Festival Award.[44] He gave a concert there, including music that was cut from various productions, while talking about his creative process.

Menken's stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame played at La Jolla Playhouse, California, in 2014.[45][46] The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was revived in Montreal in 2015,[28][29] and A Bronx Tale: The Musical, played at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2016.[47]

Personal life

Menken met the ballet dancer Janis Roswick while working with the Downtown Ballet Company. They have been married since November 1972 and live in North Salem, New York. The couple has two daughters, Anna Menken and Nora Menken.[48]


Score and/or songs

Year Title Director(s) Studio(s) Notes
1972 A Dancer's Life William Richert Warner Bros. Pictures Himself (Documentary)
1986 Little Shop of Horrors Frank Oz Warner Bros.
The Geffen Company
1989 The Little Mermaid Ron Clements
John Musker
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
1991 Beauty and the Beast Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
1992 Newsies Kenny Ortega Walt Disney Pictures N/A
Aladdin Ron Clements
John Musker
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
1993 Life with Mikey James Lapine Touchstone Pictures N/A
1995 Pocahontas Mike Gabriel
Eric Goldberg
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
1997 Hercules Ron Clements
John Musker
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
2004 Home on the Range Will Finn
John Sanford
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Noel Chazz Palminteri Convex Group N/A
A Christmas Carol Arthur Allan Seidelman Hallmark Entertainment
Television film
2006 The Shaggy Dog Brian Robbins Walt Disney Pictures N/A
2007 Enchanted Kevin Lima Walt Disney Pictures N/A
2010 Tangled Byron Howard
Nathan Greno
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
2012 Mirror Mirror Tarsem Singh Relativity Media N/A
2016 Sausage Party Greg Tiernan
Conrad Vernon
Columbia Pictures
Annapurna Pictures
co-composed with Christopher Lennertz.
2017 Beauty and the Beast Bill Condon Walt Disney Pictures Returning to score from animated film.
TBA The Little Mermaid TBA Walt Disney Pictures Returning to score from animated film.

Songs only



Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Based on a 1965 novel by Kurt Vonnegut
Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Based on the 1960 black comedy film The Little Shop of Horrors
  • Weird Romance (Off-Broadway, 1992)[30]
Lyrics by David Spencer
Two one-act musical: Based on "Her Pilgrim Soul" and "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Based on the Disney film Beauty and the Beast
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Perennial holiday musical based on 1843 novella by Charles Dickens
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Based on the Biblical books of Samuel, 1 Chronicles and Psalms
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Based on the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the 1983 novel by Victor Hugo
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Based on the Disney film The Little Mermaid
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Based on the 1992 comedy film Sister Act
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Based on the 1992 film Leap of Faith (film)
  • Newsies (Paper Mill Playhouse, 2011; Broadway, 2012)
Lyrics by Jack Feldman
Based on the 1992 film Newsies
  • Aladdin (Seattle, 2011; Broadway, 2014)
Lyric by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin
Based on the 1992 film Aladdin
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Based on the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the 1983 novel by Victor Hugo
Lyrics by David Spencer
Based on the 1959 novel by Mordecai Richler
  • A Bronx Tale: The Musical (Paper Mill Playhouse, 2016)
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Based on the 1990 autobiographical one-man play A Bronx Tale by Chazz Palminteri[49]


Upcoming projects


Alan Menken has earned eight Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, eleven Grammy Awards, one Tony Award, one Drama Desk Award and two Outer Critics Awards. He was awarded as Disney Legends in 2002, and was the recipient of a Richard Kirk Career Achievement Award in 1998, a Freddie G. Award for Musical Excellence in 2013, and The Oscar Hammerstein Award in 2013, among others. The American Film Institute included the title song from the film Beauty and the Beast, in the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs. Five other songs from his Disney films have been nominated:

In 2006, AFI listed its 25 greatest movie musicals. Beauty and the Beast (1991) is ranked 22nd and is the only animated musical film in the list. Four of his other film musicals were also nominated:


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  2. "Timeline. Official Site",, accessed February 19, 2016
  3. "Alan Menken Biography (1949–)",, accessed August 27, 2011
  4. "Alan Menken: Year Inducted 2001", Disney Legends,, accessed February 19, 2016
  5. ""Bouree" composition and comments from contest judges",
  6. 1 2 Klein, Alvin. "Theater: Composer Finds His Niche in Life", The New York Times, July 27, 1986, accessed February 19, 2016
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  8. "10 Questions With Alan and Anna Rose Menken",, May 22, 2013, accessed February 19, 2016
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  10. "Biography, 1972-1980",, accessed February 19, 2016
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  12. Wilson, John S. "Menken and Ellen March Play", The New York Times, November 3, 1977, p. 71
  13. Dietz, Dan. "Present Tense", Off Broadway Musicals, 1910-2007: Casts, Credits, Songs, Critical Reception, McFarland, 2010, ISBN 0786457317, p. 362
  14. Rich, Frank. "Revue. Real Life Funnies", The New York Times, February 12, 1981, accessed February 19, 2016
  15. Rich, Frank. "Stage. 'Personal' Musical Comedy", The New York Times, November 25, 1985, accessed February 19, 2016
  16. Gussow, Mel. "Cabaret: Patch, a Revue With Cheer for Over 30's: Life Passes", The New York Times, August 16, 1979, p. C14
  17. Jay, Bernard. "Briefly Not the Bitch", Not Simply Divine, Simon and Schuster (1994), p. 87, ISBN 0671884670
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  19. 1 2 Suskin, Steven. "Alan Menken", Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadways Major Composers, Oxford University Press (2010), pp. 356–359, ISBN 019974209X
  20. Tepper, Jennifer. "Only Ran a Minute! 10 Forgotten Musicals Due For a Revival", Playbill, May 2, 2015, accessed February 19, 2016
  21. "The Line Details", The New York Times, accessed February 20, 2016
  22. 1 2 Gussow, Mel. "Stage: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: In Vonnegut Land", The New York Times, May 21, 1979, p. C14
  23. Corry, John. "Broadway: The Phoenix's place in the city's theatrical life", The New York Times, August 17, 1979, p. C2
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  25. "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater Listing",, accessed February 18, 2016
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  27. "Menken Biography",, accessed February 22, 2016
  28. 1 2 Viagas, Robert. "Alan Menken-David Spencer Musical Duddy Kravitz Will Get Another Chance in Montreal", Playbill, March 28, 2014
  29. 1 2 "Cast Set for World Premiere of Alan Menken Musical Duddy Kravitz in Montreal",, March 10, 2015
  30. 1 2 Gussow, Mel. "Review/Theater; Nearby Science Fiction In a Musical of 2 Parts", The New York Times, June 23, 1992
  31. Richards, David. "Theater Review. A Christmas Carol; A Famous Miser, Tiny Tim and a Tap-Dancing Chorus", The New York Times, December 2, 1994, accessed February 18, 2016
  32. "Show History",, accessed February 18, 2016
  33. "1989 Yearly Box Office for G-Rated Movies". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
  34. 1 2 3 action=searchLink&displayType=6&BSNomineeID=68951 "Menken Academy Awards",, accessed February 19, 2016
  35. Hercules,, accessed February 19, 2016
  36. Rainer, Peter. "A Fox Steals the Show in Too-Cute Life", Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1993, accessed February 18, 2016
  37. Demonte, Adena. Noel, Film Monthly, December 1, 2004, accessed February 18, 2016
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  45. BWW News Desk (September 4, 2014). "Patrick Page, Michael Arden, Ciara Renee & More to Lead The Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Jolla Playhouse!".
  46. "Paper Mill Season Will Feature Can-Can, Hunchback, Ever After, Vanya and Sonia and More". February 26, 2014. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  47. The Verdict: Critics Review 'Bronx Tale: The Musical'", Playbill, February 17, 2016
  48. "Westchester Fall Arts Preview: Theater", Retrieved 2014-10-02.
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  50. Hetrick, Adam. "Alan Menken Writing Corinna, Corinna Musical for Audra McDonald", Playbill, December 11, 2014
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  52. "Mrs. Doubtfire",, January 22, 2015
  55. Reidel, Michael. "This forgotten musical is about to make a big comeback", The New York Post, July 19, 2016

Further reading

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