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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Composer Alan Menken on Aladdin's
Whole New World on the Stage

Also see David's review of Disney's Aladdin

Howard Menken
Howard Menken
Alan Menken, Grammy winner, record holding winner of eight Academy Awards, and too many other awards to count, arrived in Seattle just before the newly developed stage musical of his triumphant Disney animated film score for Aladdin (opening July 21st) started previews. When asked if the show is headed for Broadway, as many 5th Avenue Theatre premieres have, he ventured to say "Tom Schumaker (of Disney) could say better than I, but we are looking at this production as a one-off, and then I suspect the musical itself will tell us where it wants to go. You know how that works."

When I mention familiarity with the grand recording "The Music Behind the Magic" which features Menken and his late, much esteemed lyricist/collaborator Howard Ashman doing demos on many Aladdin songs which never saw the light of day on-screen, he seems pleased. "You know most of the songs in the show then, except for the new ones "A Million Miles Away and "Somebody's Got Your Back" (with lyricist Chad Beguelin ). There is a small treasure trove of Howard Ashman's material here, and I feel a responsibility to bring every song we wrote to fruition if I can because he was ... just the best, you know? I've had so many wonderful collaborators, but there was only one Howard Ashman. I think people are going to love the material in here."

Not every note of music written for this "Hope/Crosby road picture" version were used, however. "The songs I wrote by myself aren't there, even though I consider myself a good lyricist. But Chad's songs add a lot, and there is a song for Jafar, "Why Me," which Tim Rice and I wrote, that didn't get in the movie. His big number is sung by Jonathan Freeman who voiced Jafar in the film. I've known Jon for so many years, so to me Jon is Jon, but at our first readings, and at table readings, everybody heard his voice and just went "oooooh" because his performance as Jafar is so distinctive." Like running into Margaret Hamilton on the street and hearing her let out with the Wicked Witch's cackle? "Exactly" he chortles.

Having Casey Nicholaw, the red-hot Tony Award winning director of this season's best musical Book of Mormon, at the helm of this production pleases Menken greatly. "There are no words ... we are so pleased to be getting to know him, and to see the way he works. I'm a huge fan of Book of Mormon even though it ate our lunch, as they say, at the Tonys [trumping Menken's own crowd-pleasing Sister Act], and I've loved all of Casey's work, but we had never worked together, and it is a blast. We are both very flexible and very quick. And Chad Beguelin's book? It's a knockout book. I didn't know he was that good a writer. The marriage of my music guys who I've been with forever, and these guys ... it just meshed."

What's next on the composer's plate? It would be quicker to say what isn't. "The next one is coming right up, the stage version of Newsies which Harvey Fierstein is writing the book for, and Stephen Schwartz and my Hunchback of Notre Dame—I think I'll let Disney announce more on who's working on that. I get in trouble when I get ahead of them. I have a song "Star Spangled Man With a Plan" in the film Captain America opening the day after this does. I have a new animated musical, but I won't say more than that. Harvey Fierstein and I are talking about a new musical, and I'm still trying to bring Howard and my first musical God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater back to the stage. A planned Canadian production of the musical Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which I wrote with David Spencer, should happen in the next year. Leap of Faith, which we did in California, is being very, very reworked, and I look forward at some point in my life getting in a vacation at my house in the Caribbean. And just hide."

Aladdin runs July 21-31 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue, downtown Seattle. Fore ticket information and more go to www.5thavenuetheatre.org.



- David Edward Hughes



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