One of the greatest measures of an artist in the modern age is the all-exclusive EGOT club, reserved for those who have received awards in the four major entertainment categories, an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
It’s the “grand slam” of show business, and before Sunday, only 15 people could claim membership.
Beloved composer Alan Menken became the 16th EGOT recipient with an Emmy for Outstanding Original Song in a Children’s, Young Adult or Animated Program. Best known for his Oscar-winning scores and songs from the Disney Renaissance, Menken has seen success on the silver screen and the Broadway stage for decades
After more than 40 years in the business, Menken finally joins the ranks of previous EGOT winners such as Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols and Whoopi Goldberg. In honor of Menken’s achievements, I’m going to go through his career to highlight some of my favorite works of his that got him to where he is today.
Starting out in the mid-1970s, Menken’s big break came with his first collaboration with playwright Howard Ashman on a stage adaptation of “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.” But it was their next collaboration in 1982 with “Little Shop of Horrors,” the most successful Off-Broadway show of all time when it closed in 1987.
You may know the 1986 film adaptation of “Little Shop” directed by Frank Oz, a cult classic of camp and imagination that features the giant man-eating puppet plant. Menken and Ashman received their first Oscar nominations for the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space,” and they never looked back. If you haven’t seen “Little Shop” before, I highly recommend it.
With the success of “Little Shop,” Menken and Ashman were hired by Walt Disney Studios to write the music for “The Little Mermaid,” which was an attempt to bring the studio back to its fairytale roots like “Snow White” and “Cinderella.” As a critical and commercial success ushering in the Disney Renaissance, the film gave the duo their first Oscar win, Best Original Song for “Under the Sea,” and Menken also won Best Original Score.
While I don’t think “The Little Mermaid” holds up as well as later Disney Renaissance films, I fully understand its impact and importance for the film industry. Regardless, Menken’s music from it still gives me chills.
However, their next collaboration is not only their greatest, in my opinion, but the second greatest animated film of all time. I am of course talking about “Beauty and the Beast.” Once again winning for song and score, the film was also the first animated movie nominated for Best Picture.
The following year, Menken won two more Oscars for best song and score for “Aladdin.” Sadly, his writing partner Ashman died before much of “Aladdin” was completed, so he finished writing the songs with lyricist Tim Rice, another EGOT member best known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Disney’s next animated film “The Lion King.”
Menken won his seventh and eighth Oscars for the best song and score for “Pocahontas,” although he would be nominated several more times for his work in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Hercules,” “Enchanted” and “Tangled.” With eight Oscars, only composer Alfred Newman (nine wins) and Walt Disney (22 wins) have received more Oscars than Menken, who is tied for third with costume designer Edith Head.
In addition to his Oscars, Menken has also received 11 Grammy Awards — many of which are for his same Oscar wins — one Tony Award and one Daytime Emmy Award. He has also received seven Golden Globe Awards, one Drama Desk Award and two Outer Critics Awards.
A few months ago, I reviewed the live-action Disney musical “Newsies,” which Menken wrote the songs for but not the score, and while I love that movie I know it’s not great. However, the Broadway adaptation of “Newsies” from 2012 that features a score by Menken is much better and earned him his single Tony win.
And finally, we come to Menken’s Daytime Emmy for the song “Waiting in the Wings” for the Disney show “Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure.” While I’ve never seen the show, I have seen the film “Tangled,” and if this song is anything like Menken’s music from that, he definitely deserved the win.