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.
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. From 1974 to 1978, he showcased various BMI workshop works, such as Midnight, Apartment House (lyric by Muriel Robinson), Conversations with Pierre,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." 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." 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."
Menken contributed material to revues like New York's Back in Town, Big Apple Country, The Present Tense (1977), Real Life Funnies (Off-Broadway, 1981), Diamonds (Off-Broadway, 1984), and Personals (Off-Off-Broadway, 1985). 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."
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. He collaborated with Howard Ashman in an uncompleted musical called Babe (c. 1981), with Tom Eyen in Kicks: The Showgirl Musical (1984), and with David Rogers in The Dream in Royal Street (c. 1981), which was an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Menken contributed music for the film The Line (1980), directed by Robert J. Siegel.
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 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. As of 2017, Menken is collaborating on writing new songs with Pasek and Paul for a live-action film remake of Aladdin and is also working with Lin-Manuel Miranda on new music for a live-action film adaptation of The Little Mermaid.
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.
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.
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. 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. Menken received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010. In December 2010, he was a guest on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!.
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. In 2013, he was a guest at the annual Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and was honored with the Junior Theater Festival Award. 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. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was revived in Montreal in 2015, and A Bronx Tale: The Musical, played at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2016.
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.Little Shop of Horrors (complete soundtrack, score by Miles Goodman) 1986 (Oscar nominee)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the song "This Only Happens in the Movies", score by Alan Silvestri) 1988 (unproduced prequel)
Polly (the song "By Your Side", score by Joel McNeely) 1989
Rocky V (the song "The Measure of a Man", score by Bill Conti) 1990
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (the song "My Christmas Tree", score by John Williams) 1992
Captain America: The First Avenger (the song "Star Spangled Man", score by Alan Silvestri) 2011
Jock the Hero Dog (two versions of the song "Howling at the Moon", score by Klaus Badelt and Ian Honeyman) 2012
Aria for a cow (short film) (the song "Aria for a cow") 2016
Holmes and Watson (2 songs) 2017
Sesame Street [the songs "Grouchelot", "What is Friend?", "It's Gonna Get Dirty Again," "Snuffle Friends," "Martian Family (Yip Yip Song)," and "Todos un Pueblo"] 1989-1990
Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue (supervising composer, the song "Wonderful Ways to Say No") 1990
A Christmas Carol 2004
The Neighbors - S01E20 "Sing Like a Larry Bird" [the songs "More or Less The Kind of Thing You May or May Not Possibly See on Broadway", "Giselle", "More or Less The Kind of Thing You May or May Not Possibly See on Broadway" (Reprise)] 2013 (Emmy nominee)
Galavant (2 seasons complete soundtrack, score by Christopher Lennertz) 2015–2016
Tangled: The Series 2017
Aladdin, Jr. a 1-act, 7-scene musical adapted from the animated film Aladdin 1992
Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage - Theatrical show at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World
Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular - Theatrical show at Disney California Adventure Park
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Theatrical show at Disney's MGM Studios, Walt Disney World
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure - Attraction at Disney California Adventure Park
Sindbad's Storybook Voyage featuring "Compass of your Heart" - Attraction at Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo Disney Resort
Dramatists Guild of America YouTube Channel music video featuring "Someone Wrote that song"
Tangled: the Musical - Theatrical show on the Disney Cruise Line (starting November 2015)
Dubai Parks and Resorts's official theme song "All the Wonders of the Universe" (opening October 2016)
Boston's Independence Day 2017 celebration featuring "The Sum of us" for soloist, chorus, and orchestra
Menken is composing a new musical based on a 1994 film Corrina, Corrina with lyrics by Brian Yorkey and book by Jessie Nelson (writer for the film's screenplay).
A musical in the composition process is Mrs. Doubtfire, with a book by Harvey Fierstein
Producer John Hart hopes to revive the Menken and Eyen musical Kicks with a new book by playwright and cabaret artist Salty Brine.
Menken has announced that a stage version of Hercules is in the works, but it has not yet entered production.
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:"Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid (1989)
"Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
"A Whole New World" from Aladdin (1992)
"Friend Like Me" from Aladdin (1992)
"Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas (1995)
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:Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)