Estelle’s note: Michelle joins us once again with the second installment of her Alan Menken adventures! (It’s the perfect kind of Alan Menken day too — NEWSIES opens up on Broadway tonight at the Nederlander Theater, almost six months since we saw the dress rehearsal at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Crazy! And now without further ado…
…On the evening of March 4th, Stephen, his sister Lisa and I showed up at the NY Historical Society dressed up in our finest attire. As a sidenote, can I say how nice it is to dress up every now and then? We sipped wine (Stephen had a Little Mermaid Martini!) and enjoyed our cheese and various hors d’oeuvres. It felt good to do something grown up and sophisticated. Lisa and I fell into a fun game of making fun of women’s horrible outfits, but hey- at least we kept it classy.
When the doors opened, we were one of the first people in the auditorium. I did a quick scan and chose the second row center sitting next to the cut off for reserved seating. We were right in front of the piano and I started to feel that familiar flutter in my stomach. Our host was a PS 84 parent and he was an enthusiastic guy. He said that Alan’s music was the soundtrack to every person’s childhood which made me wonder just how many times had Alan heard that throughout his career? Does there ever come a time when someone would get bored hearing that? I can’t imagine how, but I guess if you said that to me everyday, pretty soon I’d be finishing the sentence for you. Thankfully, Mr. Menken has always been so sweet and gracious when hearing this, but alas, I am getting ahead of myself.
He came onto the stage in his usual jeans and jacket attire. Sitting at the piano, he started talking about how amazed he was about all the shows coming out on Broadway and how grateful he was. He then launched into one of the most amazing concerts I have ever been to. He sang songs from Newsies, Little Shop of Horrors, Enchanted, Hercules, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin, usually fitting many into one fun medley. He even gave us a little preview of Sister Act and Leap of Faith!
When he started singing “A Whole New World,” I felt goosebumps on my arms. People always laugh when I tell them that that is my favorite song ever — like in the history of music for me. Sure, I always have my favorites of the moment, but “A Whole New World” has always been the consistent favorite that I go back to. Being able to listen as the man who wrote the music performed it on a grand piano right in front of me is something that with all the words in the English dictionary, I will never be able to quite describe. I definitely started crying halfway through, but never worry- it was that quiet, no one knows until the end when I discreetly wipe my face kind of crying.
He talked about his collaborators over the years starting with (of course!) Howard Ashman. This time he also spoke about Tim Rice, Stephen Schwartz, David Zippel, Jack Feldman and more recently, Glen Slater. Each lyricist was special, each he enjoyed working with. He ended the show with “Santa Fe” from Newsies and while I have had the distinct pleasure of hearing Mr. Jeremy Jordan belt out these lyrics, again, I doubt anything will ever come close to hearing Alan’s version.
Santa Fe, are you there?
Do you swear you won’t forget me?
If I found you would you let me come and stay?
I ain’t getting any younger and before my dying day,
I want space, not just air.
Let them laugh in my face,
I don’t care.
Save a place, I’ll be there.
And just when we thought it was over and everyone was on their feet applauding and screaming (and crying?) he sat back down and agreed to play one more song. He began to talk about the theatrical version of Aladdin that was just done in Seattle and how different it is from the movie. He explained about all the unused music he and Howard had created for the original film and how most of it was brought back for the show — “Proud of Your Boy” being one of them. I for one would absolutely love to see this new version on the stage. He played it for us as his last song and I felt that it was the perfect emotional end to the night.
Afterwards, a live auction was conducted with some pretty sweet prizes – 2 tickets to see Newsies including a backstage pass and tour with free merchandis and the ultimate Alan Menken package including tickets to all three of his Broadway shows plus backstage passes.
Then came the fun part — meeting Mr. Menken. We were ushered to the back of the stage where champagne was being handed out. At first, Stephen, Lisa and I were the only people there along with two other folks. Fighting the urge to start crying again, I shook his hand and gave him the same tired old childhood line, but I also told him about my college all-nighters. That seemed to surprise him. He then asked me what I was doing now and I told him about my Masters in teaching. He congratulated me and I fought the urge to explain about the state of the educational system in New York City right now. I didn’t want any Debbie Downer moments to ruin this night! We took our picture and he was off speaking to Stephen and Lisa. At this point, I was just staring at the man so I don’t remember what they spoke about.
One thing that I kept thinking about was the music sheets he had used during the concert. I kept asking the people in charge if I could have it and they all said the same thing — “They belong to Mr. Menken. You have to ask him.” So I did. Right as he was getting his bag, I stopped him and asked about the sheets. “But they’re just lyrics,” he told me. Well, of course I didn’t care. I said that’s alright and he laughed and told me they were all mine. He stopped one of the backstage workers, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Can you see that this young lady gets the music from the piano I was using?”
After thanking him profusely, I was out the door in search of my newest Alan Menken treasure. They indeed were just lyrics, but they had his notes all over them. He wrote certain keys on top of a few sections, notes on what to talk about, underlined some lyrics, etc. It hit me that this man knew all these songs by heart and I know that he wrote them himself, but still- remembering them all like that is pretty impressive.
I walked out of that building feeling like I was drugged and although he didn’t play any of his instrumental music, I doubt that night could have gone anymore perfect for me. Like I said in in my first post, when it comes to Alan Menken, I have been pretty lucky to not only have met him, but I have had the chance to actually see him play. I can now cross that off the Disney bucket list.
Meeting Glen Keene. I’ll keep you posted.