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.

From Script to Stage: Macbeth Original Score

Arkansas Repertory Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. photos by Stephen B. Thornton

The cast of The Rep’s production of Macbeth.
Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

To set the atmospheric tone for a show like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it takes an eerie, beautiful and at times, haunting, score.

For the first time ever, The Rep enlisted to help of Musical Director Mark Binns to compose an original score for a production

We have launched a brand-new video series From Script to Stage and for the third in the series, we had a chance to sit down with Binns to look at the inspiration of the score, his process, what he enjoyed most and a few samples of the pieces you’ll hear during the production. Check it out below!

The Shakespeare drama takes The Rep stage through Sept. 27! Book your tickets to Macbeth by calling (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org.

Project Elan: Behind the Music with Mark Binns and Conly Basham

The world premiere of young artist production Project Elan is getting ready to take center stage and to get ready, we would like to showcase an integral part of the show: the fabulous music!

We recently had the chance to talk with the musical director/writer Mark Binns and writer Conly Basham and we were amazed by the heartfelt opening song of the show. Watch a sample of the song and learn more about this original production conceived and directed by The Rep Resident Director and Education Director, Nicole Capri!

The show will run May 5-16 and tickets can be purchased at TheRep.org or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405!

Behind the Scenes at The Rep with Music Director Mark Binns

Piano-keyboardAs the largest nonprofit professional theatre in the state, there is a lot that goes on behind the curtain at Arkansas Repertory Theatre!

We’re launching a video series showcasing the cool parts of The Rep that our patrons usually don’t see with tours from creative team.

To kick things off, we’re going on a tour of the orchestra space on the Second Stage, located on the Second Mezzanine, from none other than our music director, Mark Binns!

Check it out below:

Wait Until Dark Wednesday: Behind the Music

Wait Until Dark is in full force and to highlight some of the cool pieces of the show, we are doing a short series called “Wait Until Dark” every Wednesday through Nov. 5.

While the various technical aspects of the production play a critical role in moving the thrilling plot along (set design, lighting, etc.), one piece of the suspenseful puzzle lies with the sound– from the ’60s-era songs that transition the scenes throughout the performance to the spot-on sound effects and ominous music box, sound helps keeps audience members on the edge of their seat.

The man behind the sound is Arkansas Repertory Theatre Resident Sound Engineer Allan Branson, who is in his third season here at the theatre.

For plays like Wait Until Dark, our music professionals and creative team approach the music slightly different than musicals like Memphis and Les Miserables.

Wait Until Dark Photo by Tyler Rosenthal

Wait Until Dark
Photo by Tyler Rosenthal

While musicals are led by musical director Mark Binns on our second stage and mixed in to our auditorium by Branson, plays are done a little differently.

“For straight plays (like Wait Until Dark), all of the music and sounds are prerecorded and pre-programmed into a computer, so that a board op can easily play back the exact same show every night,” Branson said.

From the beginning, Branson works with the director of the play on what they want to accomplish with the music and for the most part, lyrical content is generally not the way he chooses music.

“Most of the time, I look particularly for music with no lyrics at all, if possible,” he said.

Sometimes specific songs or recordings of music are desired, though, like with this production, where Director and Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp requested popular songs of the era to transition the scenes along.

“[But] for the most part, I don’t want lyrics or the music, itself,  to get in the way of the story being told,” Branson continued. “After all, that is our main mission in theatre– to share a story with an audience.”

In addition to the prerecorded soundtrack that Branson has created for Wait Until Dark, Binns worked with Hupp on putting together a special tune for the music box onstage. Watch the video below on Binns’ process of creating this piece for the show!

Great seats are available for Wait Until Dark. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Memphis Monday: Bon Jovi’s David Bryan Brings High-Energy Music to Show

David Bryan

Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan co-wrote Memphis with Joe DiPietro.

The premiere of Memphis: The Musical is fast approaching and to highlight some of the cool aspects of the show, we’ll be doing a short series called “Memphis Monday” every Monday through Sept. 22.

To kick things off, one of things we are most excited about in the production is the energetic music that will be rocking the theatre.

One of the musicians behind the fabulous original rock ‘n’ roll score in Memphis: The Musical is Grammy Award-winning David Bryan, keyboardist and one of the founding members of classic rock band Bon Jovi, a band who has sold more than 130 million records over the last 26 years. You’ve probably heard of “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

Memphis: The Musical is Bryan’s first dip into musical theatre and what’s incredible is that his debut won a 2010 Tony Award for Best Composer, a 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Score. In fact, taking the stage on Broadway from Oct. 19, 2009 to Aug. 5, 2012, Memphis has garnered eight Tony Award nominations total, winning four Tony Awards in 2010, including Best Musical.

The Memphis: The Musical story goes like this: In the underground nightclubs of 1950s Memphis lies a new era of music– rock ‘n’ roll, blues and gospel– that is emerging into the mainstream. Falling in love with a beautiful club singer, white DJ Dewey Phillips’ desire to bring her voice and music out of the clubs and onto the national landscape will go against cultural divides and ignite a music revolution.

From the first notes of its opening number “Underground” right up to a rousing finale called “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Memphis delivers one energetic song after the next.

Get your tickets to show- single tickets are available now! Get more information here.

Check out the Broadway.com video as Bryan and DiPietro highlight the score: http://bcove.me/do4fodl9