Menken & Schwartz Win Oscars

News   Menken & Schwartz Win Oscars
The theatre songwriting team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz won two 1996 Oscars -- for Best Score and Best Song in the Disney musical film Pocahontas.

The theatre songwriting team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz won two 1996 Oscars -- for Best Score and Best Song in the Disney musical film Pocahontas.

The March 25 awards -- which also named Braveheart as Best Film -- marked the intersection of one of the most successful modern songwriting careers with one of the most dramatic comeback stories in American theatre.

In addition to writing off-Broadway's Little Shop of Horrors and Weird Romance and the Broadway hit Beauty and the Beast composer Menken has won Oscars previously for "Under the Sea" in The Little Mermaid and the Beauty and the Beast film's title song.

His lyricist, Schwartz, wrote music and lyrics for three of the longest-running musical hits of the 1970s -- Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show, but never had another hit from 1974 until Pocahontas in 1995, which also has won a Grammy Award.

Schwartz wrote The Baker's Wife, Children of Eden, much of Working, lyrics to Rags and other shows, but none ran more than a month or so. Schwartz was invited to be lyricist of Pocahontas after he ran into Menken at an AIDS benefit. The Oscar-winning "Colors of the Wind," which is sung in the film by Judy Kuhn, was performed during the Oscarcast by Vanessa Williams, who has starred on Broadway in the title role of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and on TV in the adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie.

Afterward, host Whoopi Goldberg left the audience momentarily speechless by asking, "What color is my wind?," then glancing behind her.

Technically, Menken and Schwartz won for Best Achievement in Music (Original Musical or Comedy Score) and Best Achievement in Music (Original Song). Menken and Schwartz' animated musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, opens in cinemas in June.

In the Score category, they beat (among others) Randy Newman, composer of Disney's Toy Story, who made his stage musical debut in 1995 as composer/lyricist of Faust. In the Song category, Menken and Schwartz's "Colors of the Wind" beat Newman's "You've Got a Friend (in Me)," among others. Newman performed the number with Lyle Lovett.

Among other winners (and some losers) with substantial theatre resumes:

* Emma Thompson, an honored West End stage actress who has appeared in numerous films in recent years, won this category for her first effort as screenwriter, adapting Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. She lost the Best Actress Oscar to Susan Sarandon.

* Kevin Spacey, an actor who goes back and forth from film to the stage, won Best Supporting Actor for The Usual Suspects. Spacey created the role of the gangsterish Uncle Louie in Neil Simon's Pulitzer-winning Lost in Yonkers. He was last seen on the New York stage in Athol Fugard's Playland in 1993.

* Christine Lahti won in this category for Lieberman in Love. She's better known as a stage actress, most recently in off-Broadway's Three Hotels. Her film beat the short, Brooms, by Stomp creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. But the cast of off-Broadway's Stomp got a standing ovation for a production number in which they used their trademark dancing and pounding to demonstrate how percussive sound effects are added to films.

* As Mira Sorvino was accepting for "Mighty Aphrodite," Sorvino's father, actor Paul (The Baker's Wife, An American Millionaire) Sorvino wept openly.

* Sir Ian McKellen's film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Richard III, updating the story to 1930s Britain, was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, but lost both to Restoration. Neither McKellen nor Shakespeare were nominated.

* Christopher McQuarrie won for The Usual Suspects, beating filmmaker/playwright Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite.

* Nathan Lane, star of The Birdcage on film and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on Broadway, took a swipe at Jesse Jackson-led demonstration against the Oscars for excluding black nominees, saying he saw Ross Perot outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion "yelling and screaming" about why there weren't more "nutty billionaires" in films.

In a pre-show interview, Oprah Winfrey remarked on Lane's skyrocketing to national fame in the space of just a year. "And now I'm drunk with power," Lane asserted.

The voice of Timon the meerkat in Disney's The Lion King, Lane nibbled the hand that fed him, imagining Disney merchandising tie-ins including Little Mermaid fish sticks, a Lion King push-up bra (which he claimed to be wearing), and a Pocahontas early pregnancy test.

Lane, who donned drag for his Bird Cage role, later introduced Vanessa Williams as "A woman whose beauty surpasses even my own.

* Savion Glover, whose hit off-Broadway rap/tap/blues musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk is moving to Broadway in April, performed a tap salute to recently-deceased dancer/choreographer Gene Kelly. Glover's face was concealed by a hat during the tribute, but Goldberg subsequently introduced him from the rostrum.

* Presenters included wheelchair-bound Christopher Reeve, a film actor in Superman and stage actor in Lanford Wilson's The Fifth of July.

* On the New York ABC affiliate, the producers of Big unveiled the commercial for this incoming musical. The spot emphasizes the dancing-on-the-keyboard production number "Fun," promising that's what the show will deliver.

* One of the more theatrically startling moments came at another commerical break when Peter O'Toole declaimed Hamlet's soliloquy -- backward -- to help sell Pizza Hut's products.

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