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Disney In Depth: Destination D: An Evening with Alan Menken, The Music of Disney
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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For many attendees of the Destination D experience, the last event was perhaps the most special, in that “An Evening with Alan Menken” touched the hearts and souls of everyone who has ever wanted to hear the master of his craft live.

Alan Menken, the composer behind the films and songs we know by heart, presented the most extraordinary two hours of music I have ever heard – and seen – in my life. Now that’s quite a statement. Some may call that a bit exaggerated, but as a devoted Disney fan, like almost all of my fellow audience members, we knew the gift we were being presented. Menken rarely performs publicly, so to hear his legendary stories and songs in person made this even more winning.

The musician, who claims more Academy Awards than any other living person (eight in total), said that we were a very special kind of Disney audience, so he wanted to provide a mix of songs that we both knew by heart and hadn’t heard before whatsoever. Menken sat at the piano, which on wheels happened to slide around at times, to much laughter, and sang his creations. Screens around the ballroom showcased artwork from the featured film or piece. After a rousing rendition of “Prince Ali” from Aladdin, Menken traveled back in time, starting in chronological order with his first work, the short-lived and often-forgotten God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. One audience member clapped, to which Menken replied, “You’re the only one who saw it.”

Alan Menken plays a collection of his music on the piano.

What followed was a heavy compilation of tunes from both Disney and non-Disney projects, with Menken often playing just snippets of songs in order to share as much as possible in the time frame. Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the film version, led the beginning. Menken also performed a song from Kicks, a show about The Rockettes, and a Disneyland-themed piece from Smile, a production from his longtime musical partner Howard Ashman and the late Marvin Hamlisch. Then came the Disney material, which dominated most of the concert from this point forward. After a medley from The Little Mermaid, Menken shared the story of Ashman’s tragic death due to AIDS following Mermaid‘s release. He also mentioned Ashman contributed the songs for Beauty and the Beast and some of those featured in Aladdin. In discussing the pompous “Gaston” piece from Beast, Menken joked that “nobody could beat up a character like Howard could.” Angela Lansbury performed the title song for Beauty and the Beast in one take, Menken said. Pretty impressive.

Menken joked about winning two Oscars each for Mermaid, Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. “This is how it works,” he joked, that writing music for a film must result in that occurrence taking place. It was apparent he loved to kid around over those consecutive wins. He played some of the songs from Newsies, and teased about winning the Best Razzie of the Year for that. The stage version songs from Beast came next, along with Pocahontas tunes, including a cut song entitled “In the Middle of the River.” Portions of the melody echoed themes from “Just Around the Riverbend.” Menken considers his next feature for Disney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, “my most accomplished work,” and was disappointed the songs were not recognized at the Oscars. I would have to agree with that statement, as his monumental tunes from that feature are among his most striking. He then played a song from A Christmas Carol, a non-Disney entity that Michael Eisner apparently loved, as well as a mix of tunes from Hercules. Few songs can rouse an audience more than the always-grand “Go the Distance.”

Menken played songs from "Beauty and the Beast."

Afterward, Menken shared some rarely-heard music, including: a piece from the King David production; “This Only Happen in the Movies” from the never-developed Roger Rabbit prequel; and a “film about cows,” Home on the Range. Though the movie has been maligned, and even I have jabbed at that unfortunate entry, we can all agree that Menken created some sweet tunes for that, including “Little Patch of Heaven.”

He discussed writing the music for the Sinbad ride at Tokyo DisneySea, as well as a project that took twists and turns, Enchanted, which he said was in the hands of another musician at one point in the process. Menken performed the delightful tunes from the movie, as well as the original songs for Broadway’s The Little Mermaid and Sister Act. Pieces from Tangled, his latest projects of Broadway show Leap of Faith , and the stage version of Newsies, and even “The Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger concluded the main portion of the presentation.

Menken shared that Aladdin is actually coming to Broadway, and he provided a song that will be sung by the Genie when the blue guy believes he will be set free. A cut song from Aladdin, the sensational ballad “Proud of Your Boy,” which was previously highlighted in a bonus feature on the old Aladdin DVD, ended the Alan Menken concert. “If I Never Knew You” from Pocahontas served as Menken’s encore.

Menken played tunes from "Tangled," originally titled as "Rapunzel."

Between Menken’s concert and the memorable Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix performance, these special events were worth the ticket price alone, nicely ending each of the evenings at the D23 experience that celebrated Disney animation.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Check back into Disney In Depth next week for another edition of fun inside the world of Disney, and follow me on Twitter for alerts of upcoming editions.

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