When the people behind Dubai Parks & Resorts wanted a theme song for their Dh10.5 billion project, opening on October 31, they only had one name in mind. Luckily for them, Alan Menken, the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer behind the scores of classic films such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast and Sister Act, didn’t require much convincing.
“It was irresistible,” Menken tells Gulf News tabloid!, about writing All the Wonders of the Universe. “I just imagined how a magical theme park might spring to life in the middle of the desert.”
The song, that was released in August, will be part of the 2.8 million square metre attraction in Jebel Ali following its phased opening, starting with Riverland Dubai and Legoland Dubai.
In an email interview, Menken spoke about how he put together the song, his upcoming Broadway musical with Robert De Niro and the much-awaited live action versions of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
Hi Alan, tell us why you agreed to do All the Wonders of the Universe?
Writing the song and score for the Dubai Parks & Resorts project was fun and unique for me in many ways. Creating a central theme to inaugurate the park called upon the experience I’ve gained working with the Disney company; to encapsulate the concept of this particular park in a larger-than-life song and message. For inspiration I drew on the story that the Dubai Parks and I really believe that the song All the Wonders of the Universe is a perfect fit for this amazing new destination. This opportunity, to write something for the inauguration of a new, spectacular destination such as Dubai Parks & Resorts, was irresistible to me. And I have hopes that this might lead to more exciting opportunities in your part of the world.
Have you been to Dubai? If no, what had you heard about the city before writing this song?
I had the pleasure of visiting Dubai about a year ago, in coordination with a trip to Mumbai for a production of Beauty and the Beast. I knew very little about Dubai or the UAE prior to that visit. It was fascinating and so valuable to be able to come and see the vitality and increasing influence that is connected with Dubai.
Tell us a little bit about your songwriting process. Where does it all start? Also, does the music come first or the words?
Generally, I sit down with the creative team of a project first. If it’s a film or a theatre piece it might be a producer or a director or a book writer, depending on who has been involved most centrally. In the case of the Dubai Parks & Resorts official theme song, my lyricist and I conferred with a team in Dubai about the intent of the song, the film that would accompany it, the music that would function as underscore and the uses that song might have on a day-to-day basis at the destination and around the world. Then we come up with a title or a musical approach and take it from there. I generally like to sit at the piano with my collaborator in the room with me, in order to get instant feedback about my ideas. We come up with a form. I demo the song form with a melody line. The lyricist takes that and sends a lyric within a few days. Then I do a fuller demo and send that on to the internal creative team for their feedback.
How long did it take you to write All the Wonders of the Universe? And how long did it take until the final product?
The writing of the song took about a week. But the back and forth, before the song was approved, took a few months. Besides time differences, we also had cultural and logistical differences to reconcile. After approval, the steps of production happened over the course of a few more months.
Did you personally select the team for the song?
In the case of this project I did select the singers and the musical team; recording engineer, conductor, arranger etc. And they, in turn, made choices that I approved.
You are returning to score the live action versions of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. How excited are you?
I am super excited to be able to bring these new adaptations of my earlier work to the new and expanded form of live-action film musical. I get to write new songs, compose new themes and flush out and expand earlier ideas. However, I do have to say that my favourite opportunities are still creating new works from scratch. And I have plenty of those in the pipeline as well; a stage musical of A Bronx Tale coming to Broadway, a new film musical titled Larry Poppins and a total rewrite of a Las Vegas spectacular at the Wynn Hotel, Le Reve.
How different will the live-action versions be musically from the ones we already know and love?
The live-action films will be very familiar in story and tone to what people are used to in the original animated musicals and stage musicals. But the technology and the big-screen intimacy of performance and special effects will be dazzling on a whole new level. Along with those new aspects, there will be new song moments that will deepen and widen the experience emotionally.
How different is writing for films versus theatre?
The processes are very much the same with a few exceptions. There are generally less songs in a film than on stage, because in the theatre a song moment can make up for the lack of a close-up. Nuances of the moment and the emotional arc expressed in song.
Do you sometimes suffer from writer’s block? How do you cope with it?
In all honesty, I do not suffer from writer’s block. For me, if an assignment is clear and contains a good idea from the start then I can find an approach to make it work. Writer’s block usually effects people who work alone and have to generate ideas in a bit of a vacuum. I work with collaborators most of the time. So I always have outside influence to help me.
Go get yours
Dubai Parks & Resorts will have a phased opening, starting with Riverland Dubai and Legoland Dubai on October 31. Bollywood Parks and Legoland Water Park will open on November 15, while the Hollywood-themed Motiongate will open on December 16. More on dubaiparksandresorts.com