Tony Nominees Menken and Slater Have Full Plate with Mermaid, Faith and Sister Act

Tony Awards   Tony Nominees Menken and Slater Have Full Plate with Mermaid, Faith and Sister Act
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater (along with the late Howard Ashman) are currently nominated for a 2008 Tony Award for their score to The Little Mermaid, the new Broadway musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre based on the hit Disney film of the same name.
Sierra Boggess as The Little Mermaid.
Sierra Boggess as The Little Mermaid. Photo by Joan Marcus

The score features the tunes Menken and Ashman penned for the film — including the beloved "Part of Your World" and "Under the Sea" — as well as 11 new songs by Menken and Slater, who had been working on several other projects with Menken when the idea of a stage Mermaid materialized. "When this came up," Slater recently told, "I think there was sort of a feeling that Howard had a very unique voice, and I have a voice that's similar in certain ways and that maybe I'd be able to help fulfill what he had started. We . . . located places in the story that hadn't been served by the film musically and just dove in."

When asked how Ashman would feel about the stage version, Menken says, "I think Howard would be really pleased and proud. I think he would feel that our original material was well protected, and I think he would feel that the score was filled out in a way that's pretty close to what he would have done."

Menken and Slater are busy at work on two new stage projects: stage versions of the films A Leap of Faith and Sister Act.

Faith — based on the 1992 film the featured Steve Martin as a fake faith healer who travels with a band of con-artist helpers swindling townsfolk from one location to another — was recently workshopped in Manhattan with a cast that boasted Raul Esparza, Elizabeth Stanley, Ian Brininstool, Kendra Kassebaum, Lillias White, Terrence Mann and Brandon Victor Dixon.

The score for Faith, says Menken, is "gospel. It's very exciting. It's very dynamic. There's a number of revivals. It really jumps out at you. . . It's very different from the Disney material, closer to Little Shop vocabulary, but a whole other sensibility." Sister Act — based on the 1992 movie that cast Whoopi Goldberg in the role of the singer-turned-sister — has already played engagements at the Pasadena Playhouse and Atlanta's Alliance Theatre. Sister Act, Menken says, "is going to be opening in London pretty close to the same time Leap of Faith opens in New York.

"The game plan [for Leap of Faith] is possibly morphing," Menken adds. "We haven't even talked about it. There's a little bit of play, basically depending on what theatre is available — that will determine the schedule and that will determine the out-of-town [tryout]. But pretty much, late next spring, we're coming into New York."

But, for now, Menken is concentrating on his and Slater's Tony nomination for Little Mermaid and the audiences who have been enjoying the production eight times a week on Broadway. "A new generation coming up and finding out how much that original work has meant to them and how they've embraced the new work as well is so emotional for me," Menken says. "When young audiences respond to that material and there's that gasp of recognition — the fact that we were able to add songs to the score that deepened it, and they've embraced those as well has been great."

<i>Little Mermaid</i>'s Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.
Little Mermaid's Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. Photo by Ernio Hernandez
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