(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Out in Film: Howard Ashman

Idol worship: Howard Ashman, lyricist/writer/ director/producer.

- He first collaborated with his longtime musical partner Alan Menken on a musical adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, but it was their Little Shop of Horrors (with lyrics, book and direction by Ashman and based on the B-movie classic Roger Corman film) that became a hit. It ran for five years and is one of the highest grossing Off-Broadway productions of all time. He would go on to adapt the script for the 1986 film version, and received his first Academy Award nomination for the new song "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space".

- He directed and wrote the book and lyrics for his next screen-to-stage musical, based on the movie Smile. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, it was short lived on Broadway, but would go on to gain cult status in subsequent years.

- The success of Little Shop on both stage and screen brought him to the attention of the Disney Studio in the mid-80's. His first work for them was the song "Once Upon a Time in New York City" for the animated film Oliver and Company, but it was his next three projects (reuniting him with Menken) that would bring him his greatest acclaim: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Six of his songs for this unofficial "trilogy" (which revitalized Disney and set the standard for all animated films to follow) were nominated for Oscars, winning two for Mermaid's "Under the Sea" and the Beauty title song. He also won Golden Globes and Grammy Awards for the two toon tunes.

- Tragically, he would never know the true success that his wonderful music brought to audiences of all ages; he passed away due to complications from AIDS in 1991, months before the debut of Beauty and the Beast. That film is dedicated to his memory: "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful".

- However, his legacy lives on. In addition to the posthumous Oscar for "Beauty and the Beast" (accepted by his surviving partner, Bill Lauch), he received Tony Award nominations for the stage versions of both Beauty and Mermaid and was named a Disney Legend in 2001. And a new two-disc CD, titled Howard Sings Ashmanand featuring rare demo recordings of the lyricist singing his songs from both stage and screen, will be released November 11.

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