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Gunning For EGOT : Composer Alan Menken On Potentially Joining The Very Exclusive Club

Gunning For EGOT : Composer Alan Menken On Potentially Joining The Very Exclusive Club

If composer Alan Menken wins an Emmy Award this September for his work on an episode of ABC’s “The Neighbours,” he will go where only 11 folks have gone before: To the EGOT club. Which as far as we know, isn’t actually a real place. But if it was, we imagine it to involve the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Nichols and Mel Brooks sitting around sipping champagne as they watch hired hands polish the epic foursome of hardware that got them there: the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar and the Tony.

Goldberg, Nichols and Brooks stand alongside Richard Rodgers (the very first EGOT winner back in 1962), Helen Hayes (the second in 1976), Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick and Scott Rudin (the most recent when he won a Grammy last year) as the only people to have competitively won all four awards. If you include honorary winners, they are joined by Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and James Earl Jones. Which all in all makes for a pretty remarkable club.

Alan Menken got his GOT last year when he won a Tony for his original score for “Newsies.” At that point, he’d already won a stunning eight Oscars (for his work on Disney films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”) and 11 Grammys (including Sony of Year in 1994 for “A Whole New World”). Notably, he also won a Razzie Award for worst original score for his film “Newsies” was based on, which would make him the first “REGOT” winner ever if he ends up winning an Emmy this September.

That Emmy would come in the original music and lyrics category, where Menken is nominated with lyricist Glenn Slater for their work creating the song “More Or Less The Kind Of Thing You May Or May Not Possibly See On Broadway” for “The Neighbours.” It’s a tough category. Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum — who won last year for the Tony Awards song “It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore” — are nominated again for this year’s Tony number “If I Had Time.” So are Tina Fey, Jeff Richmond, and Tracy Wigfield for “30 Rock”’s hilarious “Rural Juror,” Sarah Jane Buxton and Kate York for “Nashville”’s “Nothing In This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again,” and two “Smash” songs: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman for “Hang The Moon” and Andrew McMahon for “I Hear Your Voice In A Dream.”

Menken spoke to Indiewire about the possibility of EGOT, his work on “The Neighbours,” and the previous work that helped get him one award away from sitting around sipping champagne with Whoopi and Mel.

How did you find out about what the EGOT club was, and when did you become aware that you could potentially join it? 

Well, you probably won’t be too surprised, my representative. “You’re one away from an EGOT! Which would be a good thing for you to do.” Frankly, EGOT or not, television has become an increasingly important medium, rivaling if not surpassing films as far as its influence. I had been developing a series for a while, a musical series for ABC that turns out they did not move forward with, so when this came along I would’ve done it anyway. But yeah, I heard about the EGOT, and it seemed like kind of a fun thing to do. So you know, it’s sort of a sign that I gave myself. If I don’t win it, then so be it. 

If you do, it puts you in some pretty impressive and small company. There’s only 11 people I believe who have done it. 

And only two composers.

Hamlisch and Rodgers.

Yes, Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Rogers. And then our friend Mel Brooks who has won for a number of capacities. It’s a great list of people. In a way it’s a great thing, and in a way, as you know, awards are kind of a fluke. The association that you’re in and what your work is competing with, etc.

So let’s talk a little but about your work on “The Neighbors.” How did you get involved with that show?

we did “Tangled” with Dan Fogelman [who also created “The Neighbours”] we went through a great
and really dynamic process on “Tangled,” and Dan was a fantastic
writer, but he never did a musical before. He really learned, I think
from working with Glen Slater and myself, some of the ways and rules of
writing a musical. We had a great experience.

Then sort of out of
nowhere I got a contact from Dan asking if I’d be interested in writing a
musical episode of “The Neighbors” where the aliens basically learned
about Broadway musicals and decide they want to present a musical number
of their own. I had never even seen “The Neighbors.” But then I did and I thought it was a hilarious show. I loved the premise
and the characters. It’s sweet and funny. We came back
with an idea which was a song in the musical style of “Belle” from
“Beauty and the Beast,” but all about how it’s done on
Broadway, and all the sort of absurd and strange things they notice
about the world of human beings. 

Speaking of “Beauty and the Beast,” you have a significant responsibility in the Disney renaissance that
happened in the late ’80s and early ’90s by scoring the first three films
— “The Little
Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin” — that became a part of that. Of those three films, which was the most significant experience for you?

That’s actually a really tough question, and kind of an impossible one
to answer. “The Little Mermaid” was the first,
and it was written while Howard Ashman was healthy and
it was unencumbered by the unknown drama that was happening with his
health, it was really a magical time. “The Little Mermaid” remains this
really beloved… You know, it’s now running in Tokyo and Moscow in
theatrical productions all over the world.

But “Beauty and the Beast” is so
emotional and so hinged with what we were going through, and it’s
clearly massively, massively successful in terms of awards and very
groundbreaking and continues to evolve and be done all over the place.
And “Aladdin.” Maybe I’m most proud of “Aladdin” because I lost my
collaborator in the middle of production [Ashman died of AIDS during the production] and had to start with a new
collaborator in the middle of working on it, and dumping half the score
and writing a new set of songs to go with the old ones and somehow we
cobbled together a really successful movie that I love. So it’s really impossible to choose between the three.

What about all those Oscars, Grammys and Tonys… Can you choose between them as one you are particularly proud of?

Well, frankly, the Grammy for Song of the Year stands out as a jaw dropper because it’s not something you’re going to see again. That kind of song will not win Song of the Year in the future because the voting method has changed for the Grammys now. It used to be that the entire voting membership of merit got to nominate for best song, and then it got changed to just a small core of industry experts who actually create the nominations which are kind of oriented towards making sure they have a show with good ratings. So it was great to win Song of the Year. We were up against some pop and rock icons. 

So what do you have on tap next for yourself? I see that you’re working on “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” among other things?

Oh my God. Where did you read that?

I’m reading your Wikipedia page. I’m sorry.

Oh, Wikipedia. Why do people trust that? Yeah, I am working on “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” but that one goes back all the way to the mid ’80s. It’s just one of those projects that actually never got on, and so the rights never merged. It’s a really interesting story which is dark. The next big thing that is happening is “Aladdin.” “Aladdin” is coming to Broadway. We’ve gone back and taken a lot of the songs that Howard Ezra and I wrote for the original score of “Aladdin” and were able to fit them into this version.

It’s opening in Toronto and then coming to Broadway in the spring. Casey Nicholaw is directing, and Chad Beguelin is doing the lyrics to the new songs and of course has songs with Howard and songs with Tim Rice as well. And then we’ve got “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” again coming to the stage following “Aladdin.” I’m working on a number of new theatre projects, none of which I’m really at liberty to discuss because deals are being worked out and it’s just not the time for me to mention them. But I’m busy on a number of those projects and some new film projects as well.

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