Ten Minutes With Alan Menken
Eight-time Academy Award-winning composer and songwriter, best-known for his scores for Walt Disney animated films.
Alan Menken is an eight-time Academy Award-winning composer and songwriter, best-known for his scores for Walt Disney animated films. A New Rochelle native, he comes from a family of dentists and he managed to break the mold. Among his notable hits are Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and at present he is represented on Broadway by Aladdin. He lives in North Salem with his wife Janis, two daughters, and seven tortoises.
Given your highly successful career, you could choose to live anywhere. What keeps you in North Salem? I’ve lived here for 21 years and love our town’s rural quality, the beauty and quiet of the area, just being here. When I need to go to New York, I always come home. I don’t keep an apartment in the city.
Do you do most of your work here? Yes, in my studio, with my staff. Collaborators come up by train and the number of people who have made the trip out to my house would fill Grand Central station. Of course, when shows that I have had a hand in open in London, Los Angeles, Moscow, or Tokyo, I go there to work on them. I may spend half my time on the road.
How do you compose your musicals? Before I ever sit down at a piano, we decide with our production team on the story’s overall context and theme, and the dramatic structure. There is much discussion and brainstorming. Once the story line is set, we put it on a corkboard, and I huddle with my lyricist and begin working on the music. The lyricist must always be in the room, so that I get instant feedback.
Which of your past shows is your favorite and what are your plans for the future? It is like asking which of your children you love the most. Each musical is special. I suppose Little Shop of Horrors was the most powerful experience in my career, because it was my first break-through and went from stage to film and back again. As for the future, a stage version of the animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame with my music will open at the La Jolla Playhouse this fall. I am in the thick of writing the script and songs for an original animated television show, Galavant, created by Dan Vogelman, and next year a musical based on A Bronx Tale should be completed.
You bought and restored North Salem’s Union Hall and turned it into a yoga and dance space, with retail shops below. How come? It’s really Janis’s project. The building was in danger of falling down and it is a real treasure. We learned about its colorful past—a stage-coach stop, a mini-opera-house, a union hall, and now we are proud to be its custodians.
On October 11, you will give a concert—the second one since you’ve lived here—to benefit the North Salem Open Land Foundation. What will you be performing? The Open Land is a hugely important resource in preserving the low-profile character of our area. I will play and sing songs from all parts of my career, with commentary—songs the audience may know, such as “Under the Sea,” and some they don’t. I have a CD with 20 new songs coming out in December and I will preview some of these.