On Saturday night, Disney fans will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime performance featuring two songwriters who quite literally wrote the cherished songbook that generations grew up listening to.
At the 2013 D23 Expo, musical masters Richard Sherman and Alan Menken will perform together, taking a trip through Disney history by way of their timeless tunes, all in front of an audience of thousands. But perhaps more importantly, this concert is about sharing the close friendship of these two talents by offering a personal look at their illustrious careers.
Leading up to the Expo, I had the opportunity to chat with Menken and Sherman, hoping to learn how they’ve managed to keep the Disney spirit not only alive with their lyrics and melodies, but also through their own enthusiastic personalities. They like to say they’re part of “an exclusive club of two” with a deep appreciation for each other that goes well beyond their long history working with Disney.
Menken is quick to call Sherman “welcoming and warm” as well as a “dear friend” with a “unique voice.” While today’s young songwriters look up to Menken’s proven craft, he did the same of Sherman years ago, along with the late Robert Sherman, Richard’s brother and longtime songwriting companion.
When asked if each have a favorite work of the other, Menken – after much thought – pinpointed Sherman’s “Supercalifragilistic” from Mary Poppins, citing its “exuberance, rhythm, cleverness of the lyric, and catchiness,” adding that he couldn’t have written “Under the Sea” without it.
Sherman, on the other hand, describes Menken’s music as an “explosion of emotion,” noting particular favorites “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” and “Suddenly Seymore” from “Little Shop of Horrors,” though adding that it’s “impossible” to pick a single best piece.
The pair are indeed not only friends, but also fans of one another, eager to have the opportunity to share their passion for each other’s work at the upcoming D23 Expo in a few days.
It won’t be the first time either performer has played for an audience of Disney fans at a D23 event, each having independently performed at recent Destination D events, which alternate years with the D23 Expo.
Richard Sherman spent an evening entertaining a Walt Disney World crowd in 2011, shocking the audience with an appearance by fan favorites Dreamfinder and Figment, joining in the Sherman brothers’ song, “One Little Spark.”
And in Anaheim a year later, Alan Menken performed his own songbook, both in and outside of the world of Disney – with Richard Sherman cheering him on from the audience.
So it’s entirely fitting that after these two legendary concerts, the pair would unite on stage at the ultimate Disney event this year.
Menken admits playing for Disney fans is particularly enjoyable. Though he’d like to be humble about it, he did share that it’s a bit of an “ego trip” to hear the audience “reacting so exuberantly” to hearing so many of their favorites. He greatly prefers this type of crowd to one simply staring back, arms folded.
Sherman even coined a new word during the interview to describe the D23 Expo audience: “exhuberated.” Menken joked that’s what makes Sherman such a talent, inventing catchy new words on the fly.
The upcoming concert will be a chance for Disney fans to hear first hand the songs they have become so attached to over the years. Sherman says surprises aren’t in order for this performance, instead that the audience will be “blown away” by the simple fact that both himself and Menken will be playing in an intimate and very personal environment – with a few thousand of their closest friends.
They plan to each perform independently, running through some of their favorite songs they created over the years. Then, in the end, they will take some time together to tell stories, reminiscing about how they got started with Disney and their own personal tales.
Sherman says he will be singing something obscure, something he has a great attachment to, but he doesn’t want to spoil what that is. Menken, on the other hand, revealed part of his playlist will be songs cut from their intended films, such as “In the Middle of the River” for “Pocahontas” and a first-ever public performance of “Human Again,” written for “Beauty and the Beast.”
But mostly it will be a “potpourri,” as Sherman put it, of known, endearing pieces. (Though during the interview Sherman did propose the idea of a future “Unknown Sherman and Menken” concert, to which Menken was quite receptive.)
It’s clear both men are tremendously looking forward to the performance. They share a passion for the Disney songbook, not only because they wrote so much of it, but also because the songs each have meaning and purpose. Menken describes Disney songs as heartfelt and genuine, never filled with cynicism.
Sherman says it was no different writing music for a film or a theme park attraction, noting “every job is a challenge.” Whether it was writing for “it’s a small world,” the Carousel of Progress, or “The Jungle Book,” his role was to write a song that fit perfectly, furthering the story of the characters involved – no matter if they were animatronic birds or a bouncing tiger.
Officially, the pair’s upcoming D23 Expo concert is called “Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook,” taking place on Saturday, August 10, in the D23 Arena at the Anaheim Convention Center. Fans are sure to line up hours early to ensure a spot to witness this historic event.
And once it’s over, Menken says he’s already hard at work on more Disney projects, currently invested in creating a Disney Cruise Line stage show version of “Tangled,” still in early phases of development.
Now 85 years young, Sherman is still healthy and enthusiastic, certainly not feeling his age, continuing to delight audiences of Disney fans as often as possible.
And at conclusion of the interview, as goodbyes were being exchanged, Sherman exclaimed to Menken, “Keep practicing!” They both want to be sure everything is practically perfect as they soon welcome Disney fans into their “exclusive club” of friends.