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Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken visits SU London theater class
Students in Professor Matt Wolf’s summer theater program at SU London were recently paid a special visit by eight-time Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken. Menken is currently in London putting finishing touches on “Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy,” which first appeared in the United States in 2006 and opens in London’s West End on June 7.
Menken joined students at Faraday House on May 19 for a 90-minute lecture and demonstration, where he talked spiritedly about “Sister Act,” musical theater, Disney, and what makes theater work. Menken’s openness and down-to-earth nature resonated with students like James Miller, who was struck by Menken’s comment that “Composers and writers really get into trouble when they regard their work as precious.”
SU musical theater student Jessica Jaros describes Menken’s visit as “truly inspirational,” adding, “In a world that seems to demand perfection, it was encouraging to meet such a successful artist who openly admits that he is not a perfectionist.”
Menken turned to the piano and gave the students a sneak peek of his upcoming musical “Leap of Faith” before wrapping up the afternoon with a thrilling medley of his most famous tunes. Student Catie Pinkard reflects: “One of the best experiences by far was meeting Alan Menken. It was like a dream come true when he played his songs for the class, including my personal favorite, ‘A Whole New World.’ He was so gracious and so kind to stop by and talk to our class, and I know it will always be one of my favorite memories.”
Menken’s first big hit in the musical theater world came in 1982 when “Little Shop of Horrors” opened off-Broadway, later destined for Broadway and the big screen. Although Menken has continued working and collaborating in musical theater, he is most famous for his screen partnership with Disney animation. His work for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas” each won him two Oscars for Best Original Song and Score.
Menken was one of 11 guest speakers Wolf arranged for his two-and-a-half-week program. “The students would literally see a show in the evening and have a guest from that same show in class the next day,” says special projects coordinator Brian Nocella, who also teaches in SU London’s drama department. “It didn’t feel like they were students or audience members. They became embedded in the London theater scene.”
Other visitors included producers Kim Poster and Diane Borger, director Christopher Luscombe, music director Nigel Lilley, designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, casting director Alastair Coomer, choreographer Anthony Van Laast, and actors Tomiwa Edun, Stephen Hagan and Hannah Waddingham.
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