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'Aladdin' stage show gives life to lost tunes, says Oscar-winning composer

TORONTO – Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken says many songs that were cut from the 1992 film “Aladdin” — including an “underground sensation” called “Proud of Your Boy” — are getting a second life in a new stage show of the classic tale.

“We were able to fit in a lot of those songs we had lost (while) still telling the same story,” Menken said during a recent interview at the city’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, where the show opens on Nov. 21 before heading to Broadway (it’s currently in previews).

Starring Robin Williams as a high-octane genie, the movie version of “Aladdin” spawned the smash single “A Whole New World,” which landed Menken one of a whopping eight career Academy Awards.

However, the composer says it was “Proud of Your Boy” that was originally meant to be the “Aladdin” show-stopper.

“That was the big ballad. And when ‘A Whole New World’ became the hit song and ‘Proud of Your Boy’ just went away, we thought ‘OK, that’s it, it’s done,'” said Menken, who has also written hit music for other Disney films including “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.”

It was a 1994 album called “The Music Behind the Magic” — which included unreleased tracks and demos from “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” — that gave “Proud of Your Boy” a second chance.

“That song surfaced,” said Menken. “First you’d hear it, like, at auditions and it became this secret thing and people would perform it …. This one song became this underground sensation in its own respect.”

It and other shelved pieces of music are now in the theatrical show, which runs in Toronto until Jan. 5.

Menken said the process of transferring “Aladdin” to the stage has been made easier because the movie was structured somewhat like a theatrical show in the first place.

“It’s really a matter of expanding,” he said. “In general, with any of the animated (movies), there’s a sense of making it a little more three-dimensional onstage, kind of upping the age of the love relationships, more mature, a little sexier.”

While Menken says he’s enjoyed working on the stage version of “Aladdin,” he notes that the experience has also been tinged with sadness.

Menken’s co-collaborator Howard Ashman (who wrote the lyrics for “Proud of Your Boy”) died before “Aladdin” was completed (lyricist Tim Rice later came on board).

“It’s fun and it’s hard work,” Menken said of working on the theatrical show. “It’s also very emotional in the case of both ‘Beauty’ and ‘Aladdin.’ Because those were projects that were left unfinished by Howard’s passing. There’s a lot of moments where I reflect back on what might have been.”

While a good many children will no doubt flock to see “Aladdin” onstage, Menken — perhaps surprisingly — says he doesn’t pen music with young audiences in mind.

“I write for the kid in me, and the kid in everybody. I would like to think our material actually elevates kids as opposed to the material limiting itself for kids,” he said.

“I really like things that touch the heart. I’m a very kind of shmaltzy guy and very emotional. I love simplicity. I need a story that can be easily followed on a gut level.”

He says that a lot of his favourite songs are in “Aladdin,” in particular “Friend Like Me.”

“It’s ‘Aladdin’ as you know it,” the composer said when asked what Toronto theatre-goers can expect from the new production.

“It’s really fun, it’s really beautiful. It’s funny, it’s fast-paced. In a sense sometimes it reminds me of those old Hollywood musicals. I think audiences are going to be kind of dazzled.”