Little Mermaid Monday: Who are Howard Ashman and Alan Menken?

Ashman and Menken

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

We are in the third week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. Let’s just say, we are all excited about hearing our favorite childhood anthems being brought to life on The Rep stage.

So, who is behind the magical score that captivated children so many years ago and still resonates today? It’s Howard Ashman and Alan Menken!

A great deal of the success of Disney’s animated screen adaptation of The Little Mermaid can be attributed to the film’s infectious score by lyricist Ashman and composer Menken. Featuring bouncy production numbers such as “Under the Sea,” romantic ballads such as “Kiss the Girl,” and the ode to Ariel’s longing, “Part of Your World,” these musical numbers add tone and color to the story. But, more importantly they deftly reveal character motivation and the emotional undercurrents of the story.

Prior to The Little Mermaid, Ashman and Menken were best known for their 1982 sci-fi rock musical based on Roger Corman’s 1960 dark comic film The Little Shop of Horrors. The musical, which grounds the action in its 1960s time period by utilizing doo-wop, rock-and-roll, and Supremes-like girl group R & B numbers, was an overwhelming success Off-Broadway. It was later turned into a 1986 film musical starring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.

Following the release of the 1986 film of Little Shop, Ashman was brought into Disney Studios to assist with the film Oliver & Company, when he was recruited (along with Menken) to create the score for The Little Mermaid. The film broke box-office records and ushered in what is known as the “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s, a return to the quality and popularity of Disney’s animated features of several decades before. Their contributions to the film won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and a Grammy.

Ashman and Menken collaborated on two more mega-hits for Disney: 1991’s Beauty and the Beast and 1992’s Aladdin. However, Ashman would not live to see the premieres of either of these films. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he passed away in March 1991. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to his memory.

Broadway lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) assisted Menken with completing the songs in Aladdin. Menken went on to compose music for Newsies (1992), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010).Kiss the Girl

In 2007, Disney Theatricals mounted a live stage production of The Little Mermaid on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with an expanded score featuring the film’s songs by Ashman and Menken and additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. It was helmed by noted opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello and starred Sierra Boggess as Ariel, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, Norm Lewis as Triton, and Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula. The original production encountered several script and technical issues and was reimagined in 2012 for subsequent performances, most notably updating the undersea effects with aerial flying technology.

Information compiled by Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Read more about the music and The Little Mermaid in our Study Guide here.