A Q&A with Alan Menken as he readies for special ‘hometown show’ at The Ridgefield Playhouse

RIDGEFIELD — Legendary composer Alan Menken will return to The Ridgefield Playhouse this weekend for an intimate concert experience — and his first in-person engagement since COVID-19.

The latest EGOT winner — the rare achiever of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — was one of the first performers to grace the Playhouse stage and has appeared there multiple times over the years. The special “hometown show” this Saturday night, however, marks Menken’s first full concert at the venue.

The audience will comprise “a few people I know personally and have histories with, so there’s an extra significance,” he said. “Ridgefield is a big part of my life. … (It’s) a great town, it really is — it has a nice quality to it.”

Menken has lived “within walking distance of Ridgefield” in North Salem, N.Y., for almost 30 years. His doctors, his favorite shops and some of his artistic collaborators — Harvey Fierstein and Stephen Schwartz — are all in Ridgefield, he said.

He’s composed music for several Disney movies, including “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” as well as several musicals and standalone songs, among other accomplishments.

Hearst Connecticut Media had a chance to speak with the lively composer as he moved between workshops for the stage musical adaptation of “Night at the Museum.”

Question: Can you explain how this weekend’s show differs from your prior appearances at the Playhouse?

Menken: (It’s) my first time doing a full concert in at least two years, so it’s gonna be a lot of muscle memory to get back. It’s a two-act concert, two hours of me talking and playing and showing behind-the-scenes of the songs. ... It’s a smaller venue than the other places I’ve played and the most intimate of my concerts.

Question: I understand the “hometown show” will feature a multimedia experience. Can you describe what audiences should expect to see and how this component will deepen the musical experience?

Menken: There will be screens (behind) me so that while I’m playing, the visuals (will offer the) story behind the songs. There’s early material, including a documentary that was done of me truly by chance when I was a young, struggling songwriter (“Just A Songwriter,” PBS). I think it’s also kind of educational and informative for people who are in the arts and want to know what it's like to live and work in the arts. … I hope it’s a rich experience.

Question: Can you describe the differences between composing for the stage versus composing for the big screen? Do you favor one medium over another? If so, why?

Menken: I don’t favor one over the other — they’re both wonderful but they're very different. The stage involves many more song moments, and it’s just intrinsic to the form. For a film musical generally there'll be less songs unless it's an adaptation. … Each has its own qualities (but) in every case it’s about telling a story through song and finding a stylistic medium that gives an interesting perspective. It liberates me, pulling on my own experience in becoming the character in a story and telling the story through score.

Question: What has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your career as a composer? Do you find yourself adjusting to the times as the years go on or remaining faithful to your origins?

Menken: For me I consider music to be a vocabulary. As we speak and the years go by we have new ways of expressing ourselves that are part of the social discourse — music is not different. … I like to bring the filter of Alan Menken to all the musical styles. I want to be a conduit to the best expression of how to tell that story, and if it's recognizable as Alan Menken I’m thrilled but it’s not about me. Writing musicals is (also) incredibly collaborative, and all of that has an impact on what you do and it’s really enriching. The best advice I could give a writer is to get out of your own way and let the story be told through you.

Question: What’s next? Are you working on any new projects? If so, what are they? Are they similar to your prior work or something completely different?

Menken: Before the pandemic we premiered the “Hercules” stage musical in Central Park — some of the best reviews I’ve ever gotten — so that is ongoing. I’m also working on a sequel to “Enchanted” called “Disenchanted” with Stephen Schwartz, which just finished filming. I’m scoring that now. … A prequel to “Beauty and the Beast” that is coming out on Disney+, which is the backstory of Lefou and Gaston, as well as an outrageous rock musical I wrote in 1981. “Atina Evil Queen of the Galaxy” is dirty and fun and subversive, but I put it in the drawer when my collaborator passed away. With my daughter’s encouragement, I’ve taken it out of the drawer. At this point in my life I sit and scratch my head and say ‘why am I working so hard?’ But I can’t help it, I love it.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com