A Chat with Disney Legends Alan Menken and Richard Sherman
They Write The Songs That Make The Whole (Disney) World Sing.
Brian Curran knows what a huge fan I am of Alan Menken. The first play I ever acted in was a 1989 production of Little Shop of Horrors; I’ve since played the Voice of the Plant three times as well as directed it as my first musical last October. I’ve also played the Genie in a production of Disney’s Aladdin Jr.; when the director asked if I wanted to replace the previous unsatisfactory Genie, I surprised her by singing “Friend Like Me” a cappella from memory, as I had used it as an audition piece many times.
So when Brian asked if I wanted to participate in a telephone conference call with Alan Menken, I was already saying yes before he even got to the icing on the cake, another Disney Legend would also be in the call: Richard Sherman. I’ve had Sherman Brothers songs recorded permanently in my brain for even longer than Alan Menken songs, ever since that first trip to Walt Disney World in 1976, especially that time we got stuck on ‘it’s a small world’! And despite the fact I’ve never set foot in Anaheim CA, the very first time I was researching the ride that Star Tours replaced, Adventure Thru Inner Space, I firmly believed I’d somehow ridden it partly because “Miracles from Molecules” was such a familiar and downright inevitable tune.
What follows is more or less the complete transcript of the conference call, which was held on Tuesday August 6th, just days before their Saturday night concert on the 10th. I have not credited individual question contributors for fear of misspelling their names, but if you wish to credit yourself in the comments feel free.
Moderator: Hi everyone. This is Jeffrey Epstein. Thank you for joining us for this talk with two Disney Legends about their upcoming concert at D23 Expo, entitled “The Disney Songbook.” We will have fifteen minutes first with Alan Menken, then we’ll be joined by Richard Sherman for questions for both together, and then we’ll have the final fifteen minutes with Richard solo.
Q: Which song are you most looking forward to sharing?
Alan Menken: My songs are my children. The great things about Disney songs is that they all live in a context. The movies I grew up with are the ones that most stick with me. I loved Pinocchio, songs like “I Got No Strings” or “When You Wish Upon a Star”. And of course the classics like “Your Mother and Mine” from Dumbo. It’s hard to differentiate them because they were all so indelibly a part of the films. “Feed the Birds”, “Supercalifragilistic” [both of which are Sherman Brothers songs from Mary Poppins]. I’m looking forward to sharing the songs that people are familiar with, and they have so much investment in, and also introducing them to some songs they’ve never heard before, but I think they’ll be really interested in the context of where those songs come from. So now take a song from Pocahontas called “In the Middle of the River” or “Human Again” [from the stage and Special Edition versions of Beauty & the Beast] which people have heard, but haven’t heard me perform. I’ve never actually performed it in public, I don’t think. A whole variety of things.
Q: What is it about Disney music?
AM: For me, it’s the fact that they are tied so specifically to movies. They’re not just songs that are slotted in randomly. In the “Disney Songbook”, each song really encapsulates the experience of a different movie, and a different era, a different character, and different time in the listener’s life. So I think there’s something really special about it. Also, there’s no cynicism in the “Disney Songbook”. It really is a very heartfelt, genuine storytelling that’s in those songs, and I think people love that about them.
Q: What’s it like to perform for Disney fans?
AM: It’s fun. It really is fun. It’s a really powerful shared experience. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s also a kind of pleasant ego trip. Because everything I’m doing up there, they’re reacting so exuberantly to. It’s great, it’s just great fun. I love it, I do. The experience I have in general when I perform is like D23 Expo but not to that extent. I do a lot of performing for young audiences and they just kinda go crazy. But with an adult audience, again there’s a lack of cynicism about the D23 Expo audience. They’re just there to love it and have a great time. Nobody’s sitting with their arms folded saying, “Show me.” There is something very special about that association and the Disney fans in particular.
Q: Is there a different approach to writing for Disney?
AM: The process for me is very much the process of writing a musical, and Disney has been THE studio that has been, especially in our lifetime, the most supportive of writing songs in that way. Where the difference comes in, in it being Disney, is a sense of responsibility, in terms of the message of the song and the approach to the storytelling. You know that this is an audience that will embrace what you do and will take it to heart ENTIRELY. So you really have to cherish the audience very much as you write these songs, and care about them because the Disney tradition is… number one, it’s a great American classic tradition and it’s also something where you don’t want to go over certain lines. You wanna poke fun, but you don’t wanna poke fun in a way that’s hurtful. And the company is very sensitive to that, and once you’ve been associated with the company for a long time, you become very sensitive to that as well. BUT you definitely want to skate as close to that line as possible, because that’s where all the fun is.
Q: How do you come up with the songs?
AM: In the writing process. The story doesn’t get written without us. So we’re basically in among the writers, in saying “How are we going to tell the story?” So that it will be driven by song. We’re very involved in what are the rules of our storytelling. And you want to make sure an audience is very clear about what function are the songs gonna have in this particular project. Sometimes they’re very sincere and heartfelt, as in like a Pocahontas let’s say. Sometimes they’ve very tongue in cheek, as in something like Enchanted or Aladdin. So my approach to the songwriting is very influenced by the storytelling and making sure that the attitude is clear, the style is clear, and the genre is clear. And the people always have a moment where they go, “Oh I get it. I get it! You’re doing like a French Maurice Chevalier number, but it’s more a candlestick!” [“Be Our Guest” from Beauty & the Beast] And then once you make those decisions, then the music flows quite easily from that.
Q: Any say in the casting of the singers?
AM: Yeah! Absolutely! We have a casting process just as you would for a Broadway show.
Q: Which of your more obscure songs are you proudest of, and why?
AM: Ah. Good question. I loved ‘The Gospel Truth’, the song that opened up Hercules. I thought that song was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed producing and writing that. And “If I Never Knew You” from Pocahontas. We lost it the first time around, we got it back when it was re-released, and I think it’s a very emotional song, one that I’m very proud of. And I’m very proud of “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” [from Home on the Range]. That was a song that was written very close to the 9/11 event, you know, with the Twin Towers. And we were all, especially in New York, in a real state of trauma, and that was a song that very much captured our emotion, and the emotion of everyone at the studio when we wrote it. We all kind of associated it with that. Unfortunately, it was as you know in a movie that didn’t do all that well. I guess those would be three examples of somewhat obscure songs.
Q: Nervous about performing with Richard Sherman?
AM: No, not really. Dick is such a nice man. He’s been an extraordinarily supportive presence in my life ever since I first came to Disney. And you know, it’s a relationship that he could have felt a little insecure or competitive, but he didn’t! He just was welcoming and generous and warm, so I consider Richard Sherman to be a dear friend, and I’m really looking forward to the two of us entertaining all the people and then at the end I think we’re gonna sit down together and be interviewed. I have no idea what that’ll be like but I presume we’re gonna have a lot of fun.
Moderator: And now we have Richard Sherman joining us.
Richard Sherman: Hi Alan! How are you?
AM: I’m great. Looking forward to seeing you.
RS: I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a lot of fun, I know.
Q: What has been the process for selecting your set list for this show? And what will you be doing on stage, will you be playing the songs or will there be a band accompanying you?
RS: You wanna take it first, Alan?
AM: Sure, sure. You know it’s always a challenge picking out just the right material for an audience. We did have some requests from our hosts, at least I did. And the way they structured it made it somewhat easy to decide on songs. Maybe the biggest challenge is which of the unknown songs or ‘cut songs’ do I want to put in, and how do I want to contextualize them so they become interesting for the audience.
RS: And the same thing with me. We have so many to choose from and you sort of try to select. And what we try is to do a potpourri, not a complete rundown of everything in one particular film, but just a sort of sampling of the various things over the years that I did. And so it was kind of a fun thing, like looking at all my children and saying “Which ones am I gonna take on the outing?”
AM: Exactly! Could not agree more. And the second part of the question was, yes we’re just gonna be at the piano, playing and turning and talking to the audience.
RS: We’re gonna be our own accompaniment so to speak. I’ll take a turn then Alan will take a turn and then we’re gonna do kind of a special thing, we’re gonna get together and compare a little bit about our histories and what our favorite pieces are, some of our most endearing pieces to us personally.
AM: And there’ll even be a little bit of a peek at some of our NON-Disney things too.
RS: Exactly. We’re gonna touch on a couple of things that put us in the position of being at Disney.
Q: Alan mentioned unknown or cut songs, and of course he has previously done an entire evening of those, with his Unknown Menken show at 54 Below in New York. Will there be much of the deleted stuff in this D23 Expo concert?
RS: I’m not going to do too many things that are not well known, because I was asked to kind of hit the highlights, but that’s in my particular case.
AM: No, it’s true for me too. I think I’m doing a little snippet of a song that did not make it into Pocahontas, and I’m trying to think if there’s others… There’s so many songs that people know, so some of them are gonna be lesser-known because they’re from the Broadway show.
RS: But still, they are known. I mean…
AM: They are.
RS: … they’ve been heard by the public. And I think there’s a whole unique world. We’ll have to do another concert, Alan, one day. With the Unknown Sherman and the Unknown Menken stuff. (chuckles)
AM: Wow, that’s fun!
RS: Yeah, that’ll be fun. And just say ‘all of the songs that might have been’ you know? And we’ll just wallow in our own self-pity. (laughs)
AM: Yeah! The trunks of fun. And they really are fun. That evening at 54 Below was a lot of fun for me because I had no involvement [in the selection], they just sort of picked out songs. It was great.
RS: We’re gonna be hitting for the most part the highlights in our Disney career. That’s what it’s all about, it’s the “Disney Songbook” really. With a few little extras popped in.
Q: You both have had films turned into stage musicals, are there other adaptations in the works?
AM: (simultaneously) Sure.
RS: (simultaneously) Oh sure!
RS: Actually, Alan has certainly the record in this, by far. But there’s a couple of things that I’m kind of looking forward to seeing on stage.
AM: You have Jungle Book coming, right?
RS: Jungle Book is now on its feet, it’s in Chicago. It’s gonna go to Boston, and I have another couple of things… but I don’t want to talk too much until it’s a reality, you know. ‘Course I was very lucky with Poppins and Chitty Bang Bang, and I had a couple of things that hit Broadway.
AM: It would be neat to see Hercules come to stage. We’re working on a cruise ship version of Tangled and who knows if that’ll find its way to stage? Enchanted… again, people talk about these things, but there’s a limit to how many. You don’t want to overdo that particular move.
RS: Exactly… and so many factors have to take place before it becomes a reality, so I’ve always felt a little nervous about talking about too many things unless they’re really on the road to happening. It’s a little dangerous, ’cause then you say “Well whatever happened to that little plan?” “Oh… yeah…” Then it hurts. (laughs) Am I right, Alan?
AM: Yeah… although I tend to be a little more of a blabbermouth sometimes.
RS: Well, that’s alright to be that way too.
Q: What were the songs that surprised you when they became hits?
AM: Richard, why don’t you take this first?
RS: Well, I dunno. It’s a funny thing… when we did Poppins, I remember somebody said “Which is the one that’s gonna happen?” and my brother Bob said “I’m absolutely sure it’s gonna be Stay Awake”. It was just a little lullabye, but he loved it. And it never stood out. And I remember saying, “Well I don’t know, I think Chim Chim Cheree will never be popular, it’s just a little minor thing, about a chimney sweep” and that really became a gigantic hit for us. So you know, I was not a good predictor of that.
AM: I have a similar story with Little Mermaid where “Kiss the Girl” was really the song we thought of as being ‘our single’ and then of course “Under the Sea” is the song that really emerged. “Part of Your World” is a song we almost lost entirely because…
RS: I love that song. I think that’s beautiful. Beautiful song.
AM: Aw thank you. But it wasn’t necessarily working at one point in the film. Of course the biggest surprise of all was Newsies where it just slid off the radar completely for twenty years, then now found its way back to Broadway!
RS: It’s wonderful. It’s a great show, too. Great great show.
AM: Oh thank you.
RS: So that’s your answer. We CAN’T predict. You never know. It’s very hard to figure.
Q: What will audiences of your concert at the D23 Expo find the most surprising?
RS: I think they’re gonna be blown away by the fact that Alan is gonna be playing these great songs that he’s written, and I’m gonna be playing the great songs that my brother Bob and I wrote and of course for the first time Alan and I are gonna be conversing together. There’s a third section in this show where we’re gonna be together and sort of comparing our roots and where it came from and everything, and I think that’s kind of exciting! And also we’re gonna sing a few other songs, one or two songs that are very special to us, very personal, and why.
AM: It’ll be a very unique event and I don’t think people realize… you know, Richard was such a supportive, warm person to me when I first came to Disney. We have a very warm relationship. People don’t know about our friendship, but it’s…
RS: Oh no. It’s not only a friendship, but a very admiring friendship.
AM: And we both are part of a very exclusive club.
RS: Oh yeah! (chuckles) Two members. First of all, we both have, now we can say, long histories with the Disney organization. I had the great, superb honor of working with the Genius himself, with Walt Disney, and it was very special. I always felt honored that I was working for his company and for him, really, when he was with us. And Alan I know feels the same about the company because what it represents…
AM: I’m in awe that you got to work with Walt. That’s amazing.
RS: Luckily. You know, timing is everything in this world. But I must say that Walt set a high standard for the both of us, when he had these great songwriters of the past that wrote the great scores for Pinocchio and all these wonderful, wonderful pictures that came before our time, and so it was kind of a high mark for us to work toward. And I think wholesome, beautiful entertainments that uplift the spirit are very special. They’re not depressing, they’re uplifting, and that’s what’s wonderful, and we’re lucky to have done that kind of work.
AM: And also we’re lucky to be involved with a studio that creates films that are such a supportive platform to non-cynical material. Things that are catchy and accessible and emotional. And it’s a love affair between the Audience and the Song at Disney that’s such a unique opportunity for songwriters like us.
RS: Oh, I know. It’s great. For example, there’s gonna be a vast auditorium, and we’re gonna be feeling like we’re singing to our relatives because everybody loves the Disney Aura. And they love what we’ve done and the films we’ve been involved with, so… you can’t lose. It’s a great feeling.
Q: What is each of yours favorite song that the OTHER one wrote?
RS: Oh, that’s interesting! Let me see, well…
AM: Mmmm… Let me think, let me think.
RS: Alan has written so many gorgeous, gorgeous songs. He’s a great melody writer. Wonderful harmonies. I mean, all these wonderful things. I don’t want to pick one, because there’s so many!
AM: I mean, you have Jungle Book coming up, and there’s some songs in there that are just amazing. (singing) “You-hoo-hoo… I wanna be like you-hoo-hoo!” Love it. But I’m gonna have to pick one… You know, you look at “Supercalifragilistic” and I know that’s so known. But really, there could not have been another Disney movie without a Supercalifragilistic[-type song] in it. It’s the combination of the exuberance, the rhythm, the cleverness of the lyric and the catchiness of it, it just gets sort of into your system.
RS: An ‘explosion of emotion’.
AM: Yeah. It set the standard. It set the bar for what Howard [Ashman] and I did.
RS: Well, thank you so much. I feel, you and Howard particularly, wrote so many incredibly gorgeous songs. I fell in love with a song called “Suddenly Seymour”–
AM: Oh yeah?
RS: –which you wrote for a show [off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors] way, way back before I knew you and everything, but I said “That’s such a passionate song!” It’s a wonderful ‘explosion of emotion’. But “Part of Your World” [from the Little Mermaid] gets to me more than any other, I think… well, I like so many… but that one really just does it. I just love that song. So, there’s so many that he’s written, that if you try to pick one, it’s impossible. We’re both fans of each other’s and I think that makes it kind of fun. (laughs)
AM: And as songwriters, we’re really fans of the fact that we each have a unique… Richard has a unique, uncommon voice to his work, he comes through in his work. And I think I come through in my work, and that really each song is just a manifestation of that voice.
RS: The feel we have about life, about people, about music, and about what we’re trying to say with our gifts. Because, you know you don’t take too many big deep bows for a gift. You’re just gifted with that and it’s what you do with it that’s important.
Q: What other events at D23 Expo are you planning to visit or excited to see?
RS: Oh! Well, there’s a world of wonderful, wonderful experiences to be seen at that exhibit and to single out any specific thing… You know, both of us we’ve been sitting at our pianos making sure we don’t make clinkers at the concert—
RS: — so it’s hard to concentrate on what else is going on but I know that we’ll be watching and looking at a lot of things.
AM: Yeah, and there’ll be a lot of friends there who we’ve known through the years and also people who we’ll be meeting that are new. I think it’s mostly an experience oriented towards being with people more than with exhibits, for us.
RS: Sort of experiencing the joy that’s being exuberated by all these people.
RS: You like that? I made that up.
AM: I like that! I do!
AM: See? You just witnessed where the Sherman Brothers’ brilliance comes from!
RS: Make the word work for you, you know. Just push it a little bit.
AM: “Exuberated”. I love that.
RS: Oh, thank you.
Moderator: We have time for one more question before Alan drops out, and we go to solo questions for Richard.
Q: Before you joined us, Richard, Alan mentioned how welcoming you were to him when he first arrived. Can you tell us what that time was like?
RS: Well, you see, I didn’t know Alan at all but I did know, I felt I knew him in a sense through his wonderful songs and his melodies. And I realized, this guy writes the way I like to write, where you have a tangible commodity when you’re hearing a song, not just a bunch of notes and words coming at you like a lot of things were. And I said, this man can carry on a wonderful tradition. I was inspired by people who were melodists, and that’s what I wanted to be. And I was just thrilled that a young team, this Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the wonderful lyricist who’s passed away, the team was great and I said, “Oh God, Welcome! These guys’re gonna be great!”
AM: I gotta say, there was a graciousness and a generosity in Richard that is unique in our business, I mean truly unique. It’s something that to my dying day, I will always appreciate.
RS: (touched) Aww…
AM: No, it’s true. And it’s a very rare quality that’s in his person, you know. That’s something you sense in his songs but it’s really there in the man. And the way he and his wife have treated me and been so generous that I think it’s had an immense effect on my feelings about being with Disney.
RS: Aw, that’s very thankful. I mean, I appreciate that so very much. It’s not how you try to be, that’s the way it is, you know? I recognize a beautiful thing and that’s what it’s all about.
AM: It’s a rare quality, Richard.
RS: Thanks. Thanks.
Moderator: Alan, thank you so much for joining us.
AM: Hey Richard, I look forward to seeing you in a few days!
RS: Absolutely! Keep practicing now!
AM: Alright, I’ll be practicing. You too.
RS: Okay, pal.
AM: Okay, bye-bye.
Moderator: Alright, now we’ll just take questions for Richard.
Q: You mentioned your late brother Robert. How would he have felt about this concert? Enthusiastic?
RS: Well, let me put it this way. Bob never was [comfortable as] a performer. He was always a little bit on the shy side.
But he would have been out on the stage with me and joined me in a couple of gang songs, y’know, choruses and stuff to keep it fun and everything and keep us together. But unfortunately, (emotion in voice) Bob isn’t here with me, and so I’m representing the both of us. Y’know, that’s what I do.
Q: What song was your most challenging to develop, and why?
RS: Y’know, every time there’s a blank page, it’s a challenge. It’s always a mess, and you’re going crazy with “how am I going to say it?” But, I think we were working on Poppins, trying to top a very pretty song we had written, because we were told “this song is not gonna work in there, we want something with a little more pep in it” and “say the same thing but say it in a very UP way” as opposed to this ballad we had written. We were trying to come up with a slogan like ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ or ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, that kind of a little slogan that Mary Poppins could sing that would give children the idea that if you have a happy attitude, a hard job becomes easy. Or easier, at least. And my brother’s son, Jeff, came home from school one day and said he’d had the Salk [polio] vaccine, and Bob said, “Did it hurt?” and the little guy says, “No, they put the medicine on a cube of sugar and then we took it like candy, it was easy.” And Bob came in the next day and said, “I got a great title for us: Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down.” And I said, “Oh my God, that’s terrible! … No, wait… No, no, it’s wonderful!” We were trying for weeks to top this ballad we had written with a bright song that said the same thing, and finally it would all gel, became a really big smash hit for us, and that was ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’. So, yeah, that was a tough one.
Q: Is there one song fans request more than others?
RS: Oh, everybody loves Mary Poppins. A lot of people love one of the non-Disney pictures– that everybody thinks is a Disney picture– Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Everybody always comes up and says, “That’s one of my favorite Disney pictures!” I always say, “That’s not a Disney picture,” but Walt gave us permission to go to England to do Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Cubby Broccoli.
Q: What’s your favorite?
RS: My favorite picture, I think has to be Mary Poppins. And my favorite song happens to be very sentimental to me, because Walt Disney just adored Feed the Birds. He thought that said so much, which we tried to do, we tried to say it doesn’t take much to give love. “Tuppence a bag” is symbolic. It’s not about bread crumbs and it’s not about money. It’s about how it doesn’t take much to give a kind deed, a smile, to give love, to take your kids out and show them a good time. That’s what we were trying to say in the song, and Walt got it immediately. Giving oneself, it doesn’t take much to do that, to give a warm thing. And so I love Feed the Birds, I think that’s gotta be my favorite. That was Walt’s favorite, he made no bones about that. Yeah.
Q: How is it different writing songs for a film versus writing songs for a theme park attraction?
RS: There is absolutely no difference whatsoever. A job is a job. You have to write for a character or for the character of an experience, like Small World or like Carousel of Progress. You write what’s appropriate. And every job is a challenge. And when we first saw Audio-Animatronic figures being featured in a thing called the Enchanted Tiki Room, we came up with a little calypso song called the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room (heh) and it would fit perfectly for that. And we weren’t writing for a character or a person or a singer or anything else, it’s just every job is its own individual thing. Just like if you were writing for fictional characters.
Like Winnie the Pooh, a little stuffed teddy bear, you have to get his personality as you write him. And he has a friend called Tigger for example, and he’s a bouncy little stuffed tiger, so you have to write a song that sounds like him, so we wrote The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, because it bounces up and down like him. Everything is its own challenge, whether it be a building or a fictional character or a marvelous make-believe lady like Mary Poppins. Every one is different, if you’re doing Jungle Book and there’s an animal there that’s a ferocious… let’s call him a gorilla… and we wanna make him funny, we call him the King of the Swingers and he becomes a jazzman and we do I Wanna Be Like You for King Louie. So, everyone’s different, and everyone’s a challenge.
Q: Will we hear both film songs and attraction songs in the D23 Concert?
RS: You’ll be hearing a lot of stuff from me that you’ll know. (heh heh heh) But I’ll be singing them the way I first did them.
Q: As a child, I had the misfortune of being stuck on It’s A Small World during a breakdown, and the tune triggers flashbacks to this day.
What’s your secret behind those catchy, memorable, ‘stuck in your head whether you want them or not’ songs?
RS: Y’know, it’s a funny thing, but I come from a very musical family. My father was a very successful songwriter back in the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s. His name was Al Sherman. [not to be confused with novelty songwriter Allan Sherman] And my Dad wrote very catchy tunes and I used to listen to all his songs, I loved the way he wrote melodies. They really grabbed hold of you and they were very definitely something you would take with you. And fortunately I have a musical talent, so I could pick that up. I always tried to write something that’s fresh and original, and yet very catchy, and something that’s easily accessible. Basically I’m not trying to be “look how brilliant I am”, I’m trying to be “look how fun I am”. There’s a difference. And I write fun songs that are as original as they possibly can be with catchy little phrases in them and the lyrics are very very much part of the song. Bob and I both worked very hard to get the right lyric, the right words, so that the melodies can soar.
Q: What’s the secret to your longevity?
RS: Well, there’s not much of an alternative, y’know! (heh heh) No, the secret is, I have a good time. I never feel like I’m working. I was blessed from the time early on– when I can finally look back and say I’ve made a living as a songwriter– I was always blessed with doing my hobby. My hobby was writing songs, I mean I would be happy to do it without getting any money for it, I just loved writing songs. And I loved the challenge of writing different kinds of things and so it was always kind of a fun thing for me. And I guess I owe it to the fact that I have a good time at it.
I mean, if I didn’t, I’d have retired years ago! But people want my stuff, and they want my opinions and feelings about how something’s going to happen and occasionally they want a song from me, so I’m happy to do it, sure! And it keeps me going, I’m 85 years old but I don’t feel it. I have my health, thank God, and I have my enthusiasm. I’ve always been that way.
Q: Do you write for the character or for the voice actor?
RS: That’s a good question. And the only thing I can say is that 90% of the songs we wrote for Disney in particular were written for the characters in the screenplay, the characters in the story. And 5% or 10% might have been we knew ahead of time that, oh, Maurice Chevalier for example was gonna be cast [singing the title song for 1970’s The Aristocats], we knew we’d have to write a certain style of song for him and so therefore we would cater our thinking toward that. But for the most part it was written for the character in the play, not the personality. We had no idea that we’d get the glorious voice of Julie Andrews to sing Mary Poppins, all we know is, we wrote songs for Mary Poppins to sing, not for Julie Andrews to sing. And by the same token, Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, we did not know Angela was gonna get that part, all we knew was we had to write for Eglantine Price, the character who she was playing.
Q: Will you and Alan be doing a medley of songs together?
RS: There will be three parts. Myself, then Alan, then both of us. I’ll be doing well-known songs that Bob and I wrote over the course of many years working for Disney. Then Alan will be doing a great bunch he wrote for Disney, then together we’re going to reminisce about our roots, how we got started and then talk about songs close to us, that we personally feel very strongly about. And we’ll swap stories, and swap singing and playing for each other.
It’ll be a very nice intimate kind of thing, and I think you’ll find that it’s going to be old home week because we both have a very mutual admiration for each other.
Q: I asked this of Alan, so now I’ll ask you. Which of your obscure songs are you the proudest of, and why?
RS: Oh that’s a good question. Obscure, let’s see. In the course of the third section of this thing, we’re both gonna be talking about our most personal song that we’re very deeply involved, proud of, or sentimentally attached to, and basically– I know I’m not gonna give anything out of the bag– I’m gonna sing something that’s obscure, not thought of as being one of my bit hits or anything, but I personally have a great deal of attachment to it. And Alan’s gonna do one that he also feels very strongly attached to that’s not well known.
Q: For the final question, what is the overall message of this D23 Concert?
RS: Well, I think the message is one that Disney fans already know, but I’ll just say it. There’s a wonderful thing called being positive in your life, as opposed to being negative. Being, let’s say, on the upside of the coin. Both Alan and myself have been blessed with the honor of writing things for very upbeat ideas. They’re not depressing, they’re not cynical. They’re positive, there are strong feelings of good will in them. We both were blessed with that and I think that made a big difference and I think all the Disney fans will recognize that immediately. There’s nothing cynical about our work.
None of it. The biggest wonderful gratification that I get is the fact that people get joy out of my work. And if that’s the case, that’s great, they feel happy about it, and they have a good time. And that is my reward. Truly, my reward.