The "Billboard on Broadway" pre-Tony Awards performance series enjoyed a rare treat when storied composer Alan Menken sat down at the piano and performed a selection of songs from Aladdin, the Broadway show (and original Disney movie) for which he wrote the music with lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.
Aladdin's original motion picture soundtrack reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in February of 1993, and its mega-single "A Whole New World" (sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle) stayed at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for a week. The soundtrack yielded four Grammys for Menken, including song of the year for "A Whole New World," along with two Oscars for the film's score and for best original song for "A Whole New World."
Though the songs on the movie's award-winning soundtrack have become classics, the musical features several previously unheard (Chad Beguelin wrote the book and new songs' lyrics for the Broadway show). "Every project has the songs you know, and the songs that get cut. And probably more than any other project of mine, Aladdin had a treasure trove of songs that were cut," Menken says.
He also explains that the first song he performs, "Proud of Your Boy," "was like a lost little gem. When we did the Broadway show, this was top of the list."
Of course, "A Whole New World" - which Menken wrote with Rice after longtime collaborator Ashman passed away in 1991 - remains in the show. "I remember writing this music at four o'clock in the morning, I threw it on the cassette, sent it over to London, and Tim got it a few days later, went over it and we wrote the song," Menken recalls. "It actually has been the most successful song of either of our careers."
Menken goes on to share the backstory to writing "Friend Like Me," the showstopper made famous by Robin Williams, who so memorably voiced the Genie in the movie. "As we were writing, Howard Ashman did a lot of research into the Genies - and there were actually two Genies, the Genie of the Lamp and the Genie of the Ring," Menken explains. "The Genie of the Ring was actually described as being black and having an earring. Howard thought, 'He's a kind of hipster - we should have some Harlem jazz.'"
Menken grew up listening to stride piano-player Fats Waller, so he drew upon that style in writing "Friend Like Me." "My biggest concern [when he was cast] was, can Robin Williams sing like Fats Waller?" Menken says. "But he learned every note and went crazy in the studio."
Watch above as Menken performs these three songs from Aladdin (along with a surprise snippet of another Menken/Ashman Disney classic). Aladdin is currently running on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
The American Theatre Wing's 71st Annual Tony Awards will air live from Radio City Music Hall on the CBS Television Network on Sunday, June 11, 2017 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/delayed PT). The Tony Awards, which honors theatre professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. The nominations for the 2017 Tony Awards will be announced live on May 2, 2017, from New York City. For more information, visit TonyAwards.com and Facebook.com/TheTonyAwards and follow @TheTonyAwards on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.