Happy Birthday, Alan Menken!
In honor of his birthday today, I’ve decided to do a list of my five favorite songs that Alan Menken was responsible for composing. Now I’m narrowing it down just to his work for the stage, so what you will see are songs that were composed for the stage—and not for the screen—by the master himself (If it were the opposite, you would have had a whole post on my favorite songs from The Hunchback of Notre Dame). So without further ado, here is my list!
“No Matter What” from Beauty and the Beast
This is a gem of a song that doesn’t get the credit that it deserves (it was even omitted in the most recent touring production of Beauty and the Beast. Shame on them!). The song further explores the relationship between Belle and his father, Maurice, and it’s quite touching. One of the many things you can accomplish when adapting a film for the stage is the opportunity to develop the characters more. Not only does this song do exactly that, but there is an extra layer of relatability that allows for fathers/mothers and daughters/sons a chance to be deeply moved. A really nice addition that brings a little more depth to an already impactful story.
“If Only (Quartet)” from The Little Mermaid
There was a demo version on YouTube(above) that consisted only of Ariel and Eric singing this song instead, and the result was so beautiful that I wish it could have been placed somewhere in the Broadway adaptation. But that doesn’t take away the wonder of this version, which is a quartet that takes place the evening before the Contest to see who will win the heart of Prince Eric. This quartet consists of four characters expressing their respective longings: Ariel wants to talk so Eric could know how much she means to her, Eric longs to know why Ariel’s appearance is so familiar to him, Sebastian wants to help her as much as he can (despite the sunset on the third day arriving very soon), and King Triton simply longs for his daughter to come home. The result is a song that deserves to be held up to a standard as much as “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World” is.
“Feed Me (Go Git It)” from Little Shop of Horrors
Menken seriously had a great time writing the songs for Little Shop of Horrors with Howard Ashman, and it’s clearly shown in this song. This is the first time where we see Seymour and Audrey II (A.K.A. THE COOLEST PLANT EVER!) interact with each other through song, and it’s quite simply a blast to listen to. It also is one of the more sadistic songs Menken has ever composed with Ashman; I mean, good lord, how many songs can you think of that involves a man being manipulated by a plant to get human flesh, and feed it to a man-eating plant? And how many songs can you think of where it involves exactly that, and IT’S MEANT TO BE FUNNY? The answer? Not very many. But its uniqueness is what makes it stand out, and is one of the many reasons why this is one of my favorite songs that Alan Menken was involved with.
“If I Can’t Love Her” from Beauty and the Beast
If there’s one aspect that I love about the stage production of Beauty and the Beast more than the brilliant film that inspired it, it’s the fact that the Beast gets his very own solo. And it’s flat-out amazing. In fact, I would argue that it ranks alongside the very best of Menken’s repertoire. It expresses a grief that can only be sung—the grief of a beast who will lose all of his humanity if he can’t love the one who could possibly change his life. What’s so incredible about this song is, just by looking at the music and lyrics alone (even without somebody performing it), it’s almost impossible not to feel the stakes. But when you DO add the performance in, it’s like slipping into Musical Theater Heaven. I’m getting chills just THINKING about it. This song is a masterpiece, and one that will continue to be appreciated by yours truly.
“Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin
Originally intended to be part of the 1992 animated classic, the song was scrapped as the creators at Disney felt that it didn’t fit well within the story. Looking at the final project, it’s somewhat understandable, but god, does that fact break my heart. This was one of the last songs Howard Ashman collaborated on with Alan Menken, and it was a shame that Ashman didn’t get his vision fully realized. Now, because of the Broadway adaptation, I can sense that Ashman is smiling greatly from up above, as it not only fits very well in the adaptation’s story; it is also, simply, a masterpiece of simplicity—an absolutely beautiful song of a son wanting to make his mother proud no matter what. In my opinion, few Disney songs can top it, and it’s comforting to know this song is getting the exposure it deserves.