Howard, a documentary focusing on the life and work of director-book writer-lyricist Howard Ashman, arrives on Disney+ August 7. The film, directed by Don Hahn, premiered at the 2018 TriBeCa Film Festival and was initially announced in 2017. Read reviews for the documentary film here.
Among artists interviewed for the film are his most frequent composer-collaborator Alan Menken; Jodi Benson, who starred in Ashman's 1987 Broadway musical Smile and voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid; Paige O'Hara, the voice of Belle in Beauty and the Beast; and Hahn himself, who produced Beauty and the Beast.
The documentary, which uses vintage photographs and video footage in lieu of newly-shot talking head interviews, also offers behind-the-scenes glimpses at Ashman on the job, including a look at the Beauty and the Beast recording sessions with Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach performing "Be Our Guest."
The film covers Ashman’s life from his early years in Baltimore to his New York theatre career and time at Disney, where he is credited as the major driving force behind the company's animation renaissance of the early 1990s. After contributing a song to Disney's 1988 film Oliver and Company, Ashman saw an opportunity in animation to create a style of movie musical that was largely absent since the early 1970s.
As a producer and lyricist, Ashman shaped Disney's The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast into sophisticated musicals, the latter of which would be famously described by then-New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich as the "best Broadway musical score of 1991." Beauty and the Beast also went on to become the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
Before Disney, Ashman was best known for his Off-Broadway smash hit musical Little Shop of Horrors, which continues to be one of the most produced musicals in the canon today, including a recent Off-Broadway revival. Additional stage works include God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Ashman's first musical written with Menken; and Smile, written with Marvin Hamlisch.
Ashman would also sadly become one of the most high-profile victims of the AIDS epidemic, passing away in 1991 before Beauty and the Beast was completed. His surviving life partner Bill Lauch accepted his posthumous 1991 Best Original Song Academy Award for "Be Our Guest" during the national telecast of the ceremony, a major moment in LGBTQ+ history.
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