Eight-time Oscar winning composer Alan Menken has signed a long-term contract with Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, the company announced Feb. 5. Under its terms, Menken can compose scores only for Disney animated films. He'll also write songs for Disney live action films but will be allowed to do one other, non-Disney live-action project every two years.
Menken is the composer of Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, King David, Weird Romance, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater for the stage; Beauty, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Newsies, Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame for film.
Menken's agent, Scott Shukat, told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 5) the long-term deal (he wouldn't disclose how long, nor the sum paid) would allow Menken to work in theatre, animated film and live-action film for many years to come. No titles of future projects are yet available, though Shukat did say Menken is busy with the workshop of the theatrical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with collaborators Stephen Schwartz and James Lapine.
Peter Schneider, president of Walt Disney Animation, released a statement, saying, in part, "Alan is one of the most talented, original and exciting composers of our generation... Having worked with him on six films, a Broadway show [Beauty and the Beast] and a concert event [King David]...we also consider him to be an important member of our creative family."
Menken's statement included, "Disney has been such an important part of my life over the past 12 years." Menken told Playbill On-Line at an open rehearsal of King David in May 1997 that he doesn't mind that the profile of his work (and the stakes) keeps getting higher and higher with every show. "I started with God Bless You, Mister Rosewater, then there was Little Shop and Kicks, which we couldn't do because of the AIDS crisis, but once I started working with Disney... You really can't go back. My one attempt to turn back, to work on something small, Off-Broadway kind of a workshop -- Weird Romance -- really failed. So now I work in the commercial world and that's fine."
Continued Menken, "I never understood why there's something tainted about that for critics. When I wrote for the Beauty And The Beast movie, the critics called it the best musical of the season. But when it came to Broadway, with Disney's name above the title, suddenly Disney was a dirty word. People are wary of commercialism, and there are newcomers like Little Shop and Rent that'll make it big, but Broadway also needs a strong commercial element... I guess you always have to kick the newcomer at least once."
-- By David Lefkowitz