Alan Menken was born in New York City to aspiring actress and playwright Judy Menken and piano-playing dentist Norman Menken. Growing up in 1950s New York, Alan’s childhood was filled with music and theatre. He grew up alongside his two sisters and his earliest ambition was to become a composer…
However, he initially followed in the medical footsteps of his father and began studying pre-medical studies at New York University. But his love of music couldn’t be suppressed; over time this transitioned to Anthropology, to Philosophy… to Musicology! He would escape to the piano room at every opportunity and during this time he also wrote his first musical Separate Ways.
Between graduating and earning a living as a composer Alan had many different jobs including a ballet and modern dance accompanist, a jingle writer, a vocal coach and a songwriter for ‘Sesame Street’. Meeting co-collaborator Howard Ashman was a pivotal point in his life and career. They became a song writing team, with Menken composing and Ashman writing lyrics. The first musical which put them on the map was The Little Shop of Horrors. It set the Box Office record for the highest grossing Broadway show of all time! The production was soon offered a film deal which opened doors to Hollywood.
The first Disney animation that Alan worked on was The Little Mermaid. It was a very exciting moment to create a Disney film which would sit alongside the likes of Cinderella and Snow White. It also provided an opportunity for him to reunite with Ashman after some years working on different projects. Despite the fact that Alan had never attempted a film score before working on The Little Mermaid, he received an Oscar for Best Score, as well as one for best song for Under the Sea. The Little Mermaid was a ground-breaking production and proved animated musicals were back- the public adored it!
Alan went on to work on Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In 2001 he received a Disney Legend award and in 2010 received a star on the Hollywood hall of fame. He has also received more Oscars for his work than any living person!
Come along to hear Alan Menken’s timeless and magical music. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra will perform alongside BSO Voices at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on Saturday 22 April.
Find out more about the life of Alan Menken here.