R-rated score next for composer

Award-winning American songwriter Alan Menken will lend his chops to computer- animated feature Sausage Party

Songwriter Alan Menken (above right, with lyricist Jack Feldman) as they accept the Tony for Best Original Score for their work on Newsies, at the Tony Awards in 2012.
Songwriter Alan Menken (above right, with lyricist Jack Feldman) as they accept the Tony for Best Original Score for their work on Newsies, at the Tony Awards in 2012.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

LOS ANGELES • With eight Oscars, 11 Grammys and a Tony vying for space on his mantelpiece, legendary American composer Alan Menken could now join exalted company as a member of the select "Egot" club - winners of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Only 12 entertainers in history have joined the club, including such luminaries as John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn and - among those still alive - Whoopi Goldberg and Mel Brooks.

Menken gets to be the 13th if A New Season, his song from the musical comedy Galavant, wins for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics in next month's Emmy Awards for television.

"Awards are a wonderful barometer of how much your career is appreciated by your peers. But if I don't win, I'll live," he said.

"Ever since I got the Oscars, Grammys and Tony, that whisper in my ear from people kept coming: 'Egot, Egot, Egot.' It's like a monkey on my back."

He hopes the ditty - with its rhyming couplet "We're gonna have to kill ya if you sing the freakin' song/It didn't win an Emmy, now it's time to move along" - will tickle the Television Academy.

Born in Manhattan to aspiring actress Judy Menken and her boogie- woogie piano-playing dentist husband Norman, the aspiring maestro grew up watching Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals such as Oklahoma! (1955) and Carousel (1956).

After graduating from New York University in musicology, he formed a writing partnership with Howard Ashman on Little Shop Of Horrors (1982), which went on to become the highest grossing off-Broadway show ever.

They were hired by Disney to write The Little Mermaid in 1989 and, since then, Menken has scored many of the studio's biggest hits, including Beauty And The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas (1995).

Two years ago, he was approached by the team behind Sausage Party, the first R-rated computer-animated feature in history, to lend his songwriting chops to a project that would be Disney for adults.

The movie has been a huge critical and commercial hit, but is something of a departure for Menken, who was not used to penning lyrics liberally sprinkled with four-letter words.

Sausage Party might look like children's fare, but no Pixar movie ever sent up the world's major religions or featured a drawn-out orgy scene involving animated groceries.

"The music is the straight man in this. Even before I was involved, the directors were attempting a score with very epic, traditional Hollywood music," Menken said.

The composer said writing- producing team Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who also stars, imagined it would be "a hoot" to have a Disney grandee providing the music for a parody of the studio's output.

"They didn't have a lot of experience with working the way I work on songs and I think for them, it was more a matter of 'We'll know what we like when we hear it'," Menken said.

A raucous comedy that deals intelligently with adult preoccupations such as religion, sex and death, Sausage Party tells the story of a frankfurter leading a group of groceries on a quest to discover what really happens when they are chosen to leave the supermarket.

Menken admitted to being naive about the movie's themes, at least until his two grown-up daughters explained that the title might be a euphemism for group sex.

"I didn't have a clue. I said, 'What are you talking about?'" he recalled.

Next up in December is a Broadway adaptation of Chazz Palminteri's autobiographical play, A Bronx Tale, co-directed by Robert De Niro, who made and starred in the 1993 film version.

After that, Menken has signed up to work with musical theatre's man-of-the-hour Lin-Manuel Miranda on a live-action version of The Little Mermaid.

With a movie under his belt that tackles religion, Menken is adamant that he has no intention of extending his scope to include political musicals, however.

"Right now, politics is about as distasteful to me as you could possibly imagine. And I think most people feel the same," he said.

"It's hideous the tone of this campaign in America. I'm not saying that the world hasn't always been an ugly, chaotic place but, no, I think I'll stick to songwriting."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'R-rated score next for composer'. Subscribe