Alan Irwin Menken (born July 22, 1949) is an American musical theatre and film score 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.
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. His family was Jewish. Menken developed an interest in music at an early age, taking piano and violin lessons. He began to compose at an early age. 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.
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". He then enrolled at New York University. 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." 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." After college, he attended the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.
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 to excellent reviews and modest box office. It transferred after several months to the Off-Broadway Entermedia Theater, where it ran for an additional six weeks.
Menken and Ashman wrote their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors, for 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". 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. In 1992, the WPA Theatre produced Menken's Weird Romance, also with lyrics by Spencer. 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. The show proved successful and was an annual New York holiday event.
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. 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.
Menken and Ashman's Beauty and the Beast garnered them three 1991 Oscar nominations for Best Song, winning for its title song. 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". 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.
Menken also wrote the music for the Michael J. Fox vehicle Life with Mikey (1993), the holiday film Noel (2004) and Mirror Mirror (2012). 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). In March 2017, Disney released a live action film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, with the songs from the 1991 film and new material by Menken and Rice.
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.
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