Composer Alan Menken Invites Us to Be “Part of His World” with NY Pops

Alan Menken, Angela Lansbury, Steven Reineke

 

 

by Matt Smith

 

“I can’t tell you just how many of my childhood dreams are coming true right now.” 

Such is the sentiment expressed by standout New York Pops conductor Steven Reineke, midway through the orchestra’s 35th birthday celebration, which this year, recognized the contributions of legendary Disney-fied music man Alan Menken. 

Of course, Reineke wasn’t alone in his nostalgia trip, most likely spurred on by the cavalcade of stage and screen luminaries, each of whom has either given voice to an iconic Disney character in the original animated film, or created in a role in its subsequent, splashy Broadway incarnation, who all stopped by to pay tribute to the man behind the melodies. With animated film stars like Roger Bart and Jodi Benson and OBC stage faves like James Monroe Iglehart, Corey Cott, and Susan Egan, the aura of the Disney Renaissance era was palpable, alive and buzzing from beginning to end. 

There’s no doubt, as Reineke notes, that hearing the first notes of any one of these masterpieces alone is enough to stir up emotion. But despite how memorable these tunes may be on their one, the evening was much more than simply a “greatest hits” concert. It was a true musical journey in the fullest sense of the word. 

Cast and New York Pops

 

Through classic hits, trunk songs, Broadway-exclusives, and a gender-bending ode to a certain eight-legged villian, and chronicling everything from Little Shop of Horrors—the earliest of his collaborations with lyricist Howard Ashman, and, at that, the first to really put them on the map—straight through to his most recent (and current!) Broadway triumph, A Bronx Tale, the numbers collectively told the story of his career while emphasizing the evolution of his music… project by project, song by song, moment by moment.

It’s apparent, whether created alongside Ashman, Stephen Schwartz, or a host of his additional collaborators, how rich, luscious and thoughtful his orchestrations are. The equally smart decision to showcase the kids from Camp Broadway among the adults, who unanimously stormed the stage in full Newsies regalia to deliver the musical’s empowering anthem, exemplifies the idea that his music crosses generations, spanning theatre and moviegoers, and touching people of all ages. 

And sure, what’s a Disney-centric without a few surprises? In what was undoubtedly the most delightfully exhilarating shocker of the night, 92-year-old Angela Lansbury strode onto the stage to regale us with the title tune from Menken’s first Main Stem venture, “Beauty and the Beast,” which, of course, she made famous in the original 1991 film. 

 

Alan Menken

 

But the magical miracles didn’t end there. The man of the hour then rightfully took his own seat at the piano and—as any 11-time Grammy Award winner would do—offered excerpts from the remaining songs in his illustrious catalogue, which the program—filled to the brim with equally unforgettable gems—had been unable to cover in full. 

Of note, the festive bash also saluted corporate honoree American Airlines, the official airline for the celebrated orchestra, and—for the first time in Pops Gala history—foundation honoree: the Gracie and Hope Foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva, a disorder within the connective tissue, which befell its founders’ daughter at a young age. Members and founders, respectively, were each, appropriately bestowed with a commemorative baton.  

It all ended with a rousing finale, wherein the iconic cast of characters, from Aladdin to Pocahontas to Hercules’ original Muses, joined the composer onstage——complete with Harvey Fierstein-led kickline and all—to solicit that iconic invitation: “Be Our Guest.” 

Indeed, for that night, we wholeheartedly were… communally mesmerized by that shining, shimmering splendid musicality… only further solidifying our undying gratitude for the fact that, thanks to these everlasting contributions to music and musical theatre, he will always be “part of our world.” And because of that, we can say, aptly and proudly, our collections—and our lives—are forever complete.  

 

Part of His World: The Songs of Alan Menken, honoring the titular composer with American Airlines and the Gracie and Hope Foundation, and and featuring the New York Pops, was presented Monday, April 30th at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and 7th Avenue). For more information regarding future performances, please visit www.carnegiehall.org or www.newyorkpops.org. 

 

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