27 March 2012

Song of the day: "Beauty and the Beast" by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

Menken and Ashman did great work together and their most famous song is probably "Beauty and the Beast." The lyrics are so poignant and poetic. My favorite line is "Finding you can change/Learning you were wrong." The song takes on even more meaning when you consider that Ashman passed away before the Beauty and the Beast film was released. He knew he was dying the whole time he was working on the film. Alan Menken says that of all the songs in the film, this one was the hardest to write.

Apparently, Ashman was quite the driving leader and creative genius. He had a vision that animation and musicals would be a great marriage. And he sold the Disney corporation on it! He gathered a bunch of Disney people in a room and did a presentation where he discussed the history of the animation and the history of musicals separately and then showed how they were similar. (I don't have any further details on what the presentation was about.) I found a video where he coaches Jodi Benson, who sings Ariel in A Little Mermaid. He tell her to think about singing in a small enclosed space and makes an interesting remark about singing with "intensity" as opposed to with more "voice." I think what he meant is that you can convey emotion with the color in your voice instead of just using volume or belting.

There's also a nice video in which Alan Menken and collaborators reminisce about making Beauty and the Beast. I found out some interesting things. Ashman didn't tell anyone that he was sick, for a long time. But he would act out, doing things like smashing $500 Sony Walkmans. Ashman was also a guy who knew his theater really well. In the "Mob Song" from Beauty and the Beast, there are a couple obscure references. "Screw your courage to the sticking place" is a direct quote from Macbeth and "fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong" is a reference to Cole Porter.
Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Just a little change
Small to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast

Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the Beast

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