Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken Interview – ENCHANTED

     November 21, 2007

Under the Sea. Kiss the Girl. Beauty and the Beast. A Whole New World.

Alan Menken has written the music to a number of classic Disney songs, and he’s back with some new music for “Enchanted,” a film that’s going to be a big hit with audiences this holiday season.

For this movie he partnered up with Stephen Schwartz to do the lyrics, and they’ve definitely struck Disney gold with both “That’s How You Know” and “True Love’s Kiss.” Both songs are in the same style as the ones I listed above, and I’m quite sure one of them will be nominated for an Oscar next year.

As I’ve written in all the intros to the “Enchanted” interviews that I’ve posted, I thought the movie was great and I think Disney has a huge hit on their hands. It’s a family film that will work for everyone.

Anyway, posted below is a roundtable interview I got to participate in with Stephen Schwartz (Lyricist) and Alan Menken (Composer). During our conversation we talked about not only this movie, but all the other films they’ve worked on. If you’re a fan of the Disney songs and music, you’ll love the interview.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the two of them as an MP3 by clicking here.

“Enchanted” opened today at theaters.

Question: What was the challenge to write a score part parody and part tribute?

Alan Menken: I think the first challenge for us was finding that musical palate and lyrical palate and performance palate that really spoke to everybody and said that we are in the world of early Walt and to have that place to start. For me, in any musical, getting audiences in and getting them to go, ‘I get it, I’m with you on this journey’ is the biggest and most important challenge.

Stephen Schwartz: Just to respond, I think you articulated what the assignment was which was to do precisely that. To try and believer both numbers as numbers that would be kind of a tribute to the history of animated features, but also be satirical of them and exist on both levels at the same time. That was the trick.

Q: Tone must have been a nightmare to try and come up.

Stephen Schwartz: Tonally? No, it wasn’t a nightmare, because…

Alan Menken: No, it didn’t mater. It was just finding the common denominator.

Stephen Schwartz: For ourselves, part of it was to understand and to articulate for ourselves what the assignment was which is pretty much as you described it.

Q: How different was it from when you’ve done straight Disney?

Alan Menken: Well, we’ve always had tongue in cheek, I gotta say. I mean Howard and I from ‘Little Mermaid’ on, it was always a little tongue in cheek and, as Stephen says, post modern approach to it. As far this, all I had to do was just play it straight. I just had to play it hyper straight, so to speak. And be in Walt’s world. Be in that world where completely innocent, completely optimistic and they fall in love in a flash. So that provides the entry into what happens and everything gets twisted when they come into our world and she’s still our animated heroine. The song possibilities just become so much fun.

Stephen Schwartz: I tried to channel the classic Walt Disney sensibility and then just push it a little bit further in terms of choices of words or certain lyrics. I mean, to me in ‘True Love’s Kiss’ where she says, ‘These lips are the only things that touch,’ that sort of idea was — once I sort of found that tone of it, then it was just a matter of trying to find decent joke.

Alan Menken: And her very first words where she goes, ‘When you meet the someone who is meant for you?’ We looked at Snow White and she speaks it in that little warbley thing and then I demo’d it just like that. (Laughs.)

Stephen Schwartz: He’s one of the best Snow White’s you’ve ever heard.

Q: The only people who sing are from the animated world, correct?

Stephen Schwartz: That is correct. There is a number where all of Central Park kinds joins her.

Q: Is that because they are from that world?

Stephen Schwartz: Yes, that’s the brilliant notion when Bill Kelley created the idea of ‘Enchanted.’ And as we told some of the other groups we’ve spoken to, we heard about this movie the title and the concept a long time ago and I for one was extremely covative about trying to get involved with it, because I thought Bill Kelley’s concept was so cleer. I had no idea if Disney was even thinking of it at as a musical at all.

Alan Menken:
Well, I was actually involved with it about four or five years ago and wrote a an opening number in an earlier incarnation. But then it went back into development…

Stephen Schwartz: The concept was that people in 2D animation sing and people, needless to say, in real life don’t. So, putting that up against each other and allowing, having the Patrick Dempsey character who kind of speaks for us, for out point of view, to respond to this girl singing. I really don’t dance and all that stuff.

Alan Menken: Please, don’t sing, don’t sing.

Q: Do you guys miss the 2D animation world?

Alan Menken: First off all, I love it. It’s there forever for all of us to look at, god knows. I miss the process. I am so happy of where my life is, it’s not like it’s a lack. But those animators and those storyboards and going to those buildings and there was a wonderful purity of process in the world of animation. It’s different in the world of live action where every film is it’s own production and the outside world comes in a lot more. Animation you still felt sort of the scent of Walt, even in the days of ‘Mermaid,’ ‘Beauty,’ ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Pocahontas.’ It was a wonderful place to be…

Stephen Schwartz: I miss the level of art, frankly. Just the beauty of what the animation looked like. I do miss that a little bit. That seems to be thus far impossible to achieve in CGI.

Q: They can’t do it.

Stephen Schwartz: They can’t capture it at all.

Alan Menken: And you guys have possibly interviewed some of the animators and there was a wonderful naiveté and pure artistic vision with them that was great to be around. And they are still are there and John Luctor and Mark Lemmons are working on a new project over there with Disney.

Q: Alan, you worked on ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ that was based on a Roger Corman movie. Did you ever think you’d see the day when Broadway would be doing versions of ‘Flashdance,’ ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’?

Alan Menken: Never really thought about it one way or the another. Y’know if people think there is a buck to be made, nothing every surprises me.

Q: Any variations in themes you’d come up with in your previous films?

Stephen Schwartz: Well, certainly, that’s ‘How you Know’ is a send up of the Disney production number that began to be perfected, well began when Alan worked with Howard Ashman in ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Be Our Guest.’ And then we did one with ‘Topsy Turvy’ in ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ so we were definitely spoofing ourselves. And also, ‘So Close’ the number in the ballroom has deliberate references, including the camera move, the famous camera move of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

Alan Menken: And we brought in Robbie Buchanan to arrange it and Robbie actually had arranged the singles of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘A Whole New World’ and ‘Colors of the Wind.’

Stephen Schwartz: It was fun to both spoof, if you will, the old Disney films of the 40’s, but then to take a couple pokes at ourselves too. That was fun.

Q: Did you go back and look at ‘Snow White’ and ‘Whistle While You Work’?

Stephen Schwartz: Absolutely. ‘Snow White,’ ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ we looked at very carefully in terms of how music was used, what the style of music was in terms of how they got into musical numbers and so on. We were really trying to channel that world.

Alan Menken: All of us were just looking at the prototypes and going, ‘Oh, this is great. This is great.’ And then Kevin would go, ‘Let’s look at this number from ‘Snow White,’ let’s look at this number from ‘Cinderella.’’ That was it was hard, that opening. Because you want to catch – I finally said, ‘Stephen you have got to come into the room with me. Kevin is in town. Kevin you have got to come into the room.’ Close the door and I literally ended up writing what is now ‘True Love’s Kiss’ with them in the room to make sure we all approved the same thing at the same time, because we would all go, ‘Oh, that’s good, but let’s try that.’

Stephen Schwartz: ‘Happy Working Song; came really fast.

Alan Menken: That was fast. ‘That’s How You Know’ was so much fun to create those counter melodies one on another and then open up into this chorus.

Stephen Schwartz: But to answer your question, ‘Happy Working Song’ is obviously pretty much out of ‘Snow White’ and ‘Whistle While You Work’ and that little thing where they do the dishes and Dopey with the soap bubbles and everything. So, there is a bit of reference to the busy little mice in ‘Cinderella,’ but basically it’s ‘Snow White.’

Continued on page 2 ———>


Q: So many comic lyrics in this. I remember ‘Even though you are vermin.’

Stephen Schwartz: It’s always good to be able to use vermin in a song.

Q: Was it an intent to make more of the comedic lyrics?

Stephen Schwartz: Absolutely. And I’m pleased it worked. We were definitely going for – I was looking for jokes. Definitely’

Q: Can you give us a progress report of ‘Mermaid’ on stage? And did you think it was doable as a theater piece?

Alan Menken: I really hadn’t thought about ‘Mermaid’ for the stage for the challenge of being under the sea. As everyone knows, that was one of the difficulties. And once Francesca Zembello and she’s working with George Sefin and his sets use light in this brilliant way that takes on light to look aquatic or look like the sea, along with all the other stage craft that is available to us, then it became possible. It had actually been in the works for five years though. We’d been working on it in various ways. We had our first preview last night on Broadway. I got emails from a number of people who have all said that it went really, really well.

Q: How close do they stick to the movie?

Alan Menken: The original songs by Howard Ashman and I are there. Ten new songs, as well with Glen Slater, that’s the name of the lyricist. And I think it’s quite seamless. Like ‘Beauty and the Beaty’ it’s going to be a very seamless experience and audiences seem to love it.

Q: We heard there is an Idina song that may be on the DVD but isn’t in the film?

Stephen Schwartz: Yeah, isn’t that so weird? I kept saying to Kevin, ‘You have Idina Menzel in this movie and she’s not going to sing?’ We did have a closing number which in fact was a title song called ‘Enchanted,’ but what happened was that stylistically by the time we got to that point in that film, because she wasn’t an animated character – it didn’t actually work stylistically for her to sing. So, I actually think Idina is wonderful in the film.

Q: Why not have her sing at the end of the movie in the animated world?

Stephen Schwartz: We talked about it. But the amount of time we would have had to spend with her in the animated world, it didn’t seem justified. There were reasons why practically, tonally and stylistically it didn’t work. And actually, if a different actress was playing the role of Nancy it never would have arisen. It was just because it was Idina, but Idina is a wonderful actress and I think she’s terrific without singing.

Q: So, there is a title song called ‘Enchanted’?

Stephen Schwartz: Yes.

Alan Menken: There were two songs. Also, there was an alternative to ‘So Close.’ People were like ‘We love the song, but could you…’ So, I wrote another song called ‘Enchanted.’ But that was a ballad.

Q: Aren’t you setting up for a sequel that you have a great singer in the animated world?

Stephen Schwartz: That had never occurred to us, but thank you for suggesting it. No, truly. The idea of a sequel, I don’t think it ever occurs while doing a film. A film proves popular, those are always business decisions to make a sequel and then you think about it. But actually that hadn’t occurred to me. But for whatever reason they decide to continue it’s great.

Alan Menken: But maybe someday, if it happens, people will think we had brilliant foresight.

Stephen Schwartz: That’s right. We’ll take credit for it. ‘That’s why we had Idina in the first place!’

Q: What else do you have on your plate besides ‘Mermaid’?

Alan Menken: Besides ‘Mermaid’? I have a musical ‘Sister Act’ opening in London next fall. And ‘Leap of Faith’ directed by Taylor Hackford going to have a workshop this spring and then open the following season.

Q: They are taking a lot of movies…

Alan Menken: I don’t know why people are surprised by that. Broadway is basically an adaptation medium. It’s so much and films are a vital part of our culture.

Stephen Schwartz: Also, movies because of the way they are structured, frankly, they lend themselves well to musicalization because there are technical reasons why — the storytelling, the way it occurs in a movie lends itself well to musicals.

Q: In ‘Leap of Faith’ are there a lot of new gospel songs? Any other styles?

Alan Menken: Yes, very heavily gospel. A little bit of country and a little bit of rock and theater. By the way, Stephen is working on an Opera.

Stephen Schwartz: I am recklessly and foolishly working on an Opera. I am doing an opera based on, again, a film, based on ‘Scenence in a wet afternoon.’ A film from the ‘60’s that starred Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough. And the premiere is for the Opera company in Santa Barbara, as a matter of fact, for 2009.

Q: How are you changing it?

Stephen Schwartz: Well, they are sining. (Laughs).

Stephen Schwartz: To some extent it’s not. I did make some changes in terms of the story. I brought a character on stage who is referred to in the original, but isn’t in the film. Which is the ghost of the…

Alan Menken: And independent of anything that comes like this Stephen and I are looking for another film projects.

Stephen Schwartz: So, if you have something let us know.

Alan Menken: Well, we have something in mind.

(then they do a poll with all the journalists in the room for what their favorite song in the movie was. They are trying to figure out what to submit for the Oscar’s. The winner was ‘That’s How You Know’)

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