Yeah, kind of. [Laughs] After a while, you feel like a workaholic.
Do you enjoy revisiting your older work, or do you do so more out of a sense of protectiveness?
A little of both. These are my babies — I don’t want to walk away from them. Sometimes I’ll think, “What more do we have to say in the telling of this story?” And then it will be incumbent upon me to get to know the director, the book writer, and talk to them about the things they want to add. That’s where it becomes fun for me.
What was it like working with Lin-Manuel Miranda on new songs for “The Little Mermaid”?
It was a lot of fun — I knew about him because he went to the [Hunter College Elementary School] with my niece, and I would always hear about this little boy, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and how he was obsessed with “The Little Mermaid.”
Of the three songs we did together, one is more in my and Howard’s wheelhouse, “Wild Uncharted Waters.” It’s a ballad sung by Prince Eric, and it’s the roiling inside him — it’s very emotional. “For the First Time,” which Ariel sings when she gets legs about all the things she’s noticing for the first time, is a real combination of our styles. I had given Lin a fragment from the score from the original animated movie, and he said, “Wait, can we put a 2 against the 3?” [referring to the tempo], and so it got that real rhythmic rub to it. And the one that was much more in Lin’s wheelhouse was “The Scuttlebutt,” which is sung by Scuttle and Sebastian [played by Awkwafina and Daveed Diggs]. I gave him a little Caribbean tune thinking he would lyricize that, and in fact, he rapped over it! It was just one of those moments where you sense somebody’s brilliance.
In 1997, David Horn, now the executive producer of PBS’s “Great Performances” series, told The New York Times, “When there’s a Sondheim musical, everyone refers to it as a Sondheim musical. When it’s something Alan has done, they refer to it as a Disney musical.” Do you still mind your shows being known as Disney musicals?
I sometimes would have a little resistance to simply being characterized as “Disney composer Alan Menken” because I already had a huge hit with “Little Shop of Horrors” before I went to Disney. And while I was at Disney, I wrote so many other outside projects — the “Christmas Carol” that was at Madison Square Garden for [nearly] 10 years with Lynn Ahrens, [stage shows] “Sister Act,” “A Bronx Tale,” “Leap of Faith,” [the series] “Galavant” — but there is no musical opportunity that is at the level of writing a musical for Disney. If you do your work right, you will have an experience that nothing else can match.