PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Alan Menken

By Kenneth Jones
18 Sep 2010

Sister Act's Patina Renea Miller
On first glance, you would think that Sister Act — your other show aiming for Broadway — might be a "sister" kind of show, musically, to Leap of Faith, but it sounds very different. I thought Sister Act might be a similar gospel show.
AM: No. In fact, I was very deliberate when I did Sister Act. First of all, I had started Leap of Faith first; I wasn't going to [go into a gospel style] because it was just too close [to Leap of Faith]. I also didn't want to write [Sister Act] in a Motown style, because, frankly, I had already done that with Little Shop of Horrors. I had always wanted to write a disco musical. I had always wanted to write a musical that pulled on all those fabulous styles from the '70s. And I thought this was a perfect opportunity for it, and Glenn and I embraced that opportunity. Peter Schneider, who of course brought the project to me and developed it and directed it, was entirely in support of that, as well.

We don't want competing Alan Menken scores in the same Broadway season, do we? Sister Act is coming to Broadway in 2011, and Leap of Faith, if it works out well in the L.A. tryout, would seem to be on track, too.
AM: Well, [laughs] both are talking about coming in this season. It scares the shit out of me, but I have no control over it. …The last thing I want to do is put on a producer's hat. I really don't want to do that. I don't want to be responsible for that. I'm responsible for their investment because I've put my best efforts into writing the best musical and because I've thrown my talents into it, but decisions like "when we come in, where we open out of town" — I can express, I suppose, an opinion, but I really expect my producers to make those decisions, and at the moment, both sets of producers strongly would like to come in this season. But you know what? Right now, I think everyone [thinks], "Let's just open in L.A. and see what we've got."

Leap of Faith did come first?
AM: Oh, yeah. Leap of Faith has been around for quite a while. Eight years. Eight years is unusually long, to be honest. Although I have one show, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which literally had its first production in 1987 or '86, and we still aren't at the point where it's had its first-class production. For any number of reasons — you put something away and walk away from it, but then you go, "I can't walk away from this." With Leap of Faith, there were a lot of readings, a lot of workshops. We had some detours with directors and situations that didn't work out. I won't get into details about that, but those things can tie you up for a year. And also, I have a lot of other things all the time on my plate, so it goes through periods where I'm not pushing hard on it.

Alan Menken and Glenn Slater
photo by Craig Schwartz

Can you give me a sense of what makes you and Glenn such a great team? What's great about Glenn Slater?
AM: Oh! Well, first of all, he's a brilliant collaborator. Anybody as talented and brilliant as Glenn is, I'm gonna make sure I'm a good collaborator, too. Sometimes we're a bit opposite. If you meet Glenn personally, he's a really light, bright person. In the room, working together, he can be a dark soul. [Laughs.] He reminds me of Howard that way. He gets very impatient and very impassioned. He can be very cynical. I'm the guy who's digging through the horse manure saying, "There must be a pony here," and Glenn is saying, "Hey, [this is] shit." So we really balance each other well. Glenn has both lyric smarts and book smarts. He's very smart dramaturgically. I'm a very gut-level person. I think with my gut a great deal. Glenn is a really intelligent person who thinks with his head a lot, which is nice occasionally. So again, that makes for a good combination. He's totally embraced working in styles, as I do, which is so important to me — finding the essence of a style and finding out why it's gonna be effective dramatically for a particular story. That's all great. But there's an age difference between us. When I first started working with him, it was like robbing the cradle. He was in his mid-20s and I was already established. But you know, after he's worked with me after all these years, I've aged him considerably. [Laughs.]



Every musical theatre writer has a file, a drawer full of ideas and press clippings and obituaries, or whatever, for source material for a possible musical. Do you guys have a wish list of stuff you want to do that nobody knows about?
AM: Yeah, we do. We do. There's many projects we've discussed. And I have my own wish list. I mean, remember, I do have a number of other collaborators. I have my collaboration with David Zippel and my collaboration with Stephen Schwartz and my collaboration with Jack Feldman, with whom I wrote "Newsies," and my collaboration with Lynn Ahrens. I have all these different people whom I love working with. Glenn, yes, at the moment, is actually my prime collaborator but I have my own wish list, and Glenn has his own wish list. I mean, he had talked to me about "The Hudsucker Proxy" for a while, and I said, "I don't think I'm gonna want to do that one. Let's look at something else." But on his own, he and another collaborator of his, Steve Weiner, went and wrote a musical of "Hudsucker Proxy." And yes, we have a project we're thinking about right now that we just discussed yesterday. But you know, as I say, barely a day goes by where you don't say, "Oh, that would be an interesting musical." And then, as soon as we say that, I go, "Well, you know what? It would be nice to go home and just take a little time off."

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Write him at kjones@playbill.com.)