Before Audrey, Ariel And Belle There Was Mr. Rosewater

It's a little-remembered musical, but it started a famous artistic partnership.

In 1978 composer Alan Menken teamed with lyricist, book writer, and director Howard Ashman – both in their late 20s – to create God Bless Your Mr. Rosewater, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

It was produced in New York the following year at Ashman's WPA Theatre before transferring to the Off-Broadway Entermedia Theater. That production (pictured above) only lasted 49 performances, but it established the artists who would go on to create the scores for Little Shop of Horrors and the Disney animated musicals The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.. (Sadly, Ashman only partially completed his work on the latter before his AIDS-related death at 40 in 1991.)

Now those roots are being revisited. From July 27 – 30, a concert version of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is being revived in New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center series. The show centers on Elliot Rosewater, an alcoholic millionaire who, according to stage notes, "decides to blow his fortune on a town full of pitiable creatures."

"In 1978 I was working exclusively as a composer/lyricist," says Menken via email. "And my dear friend – and fellow composer/lyricist in the BMI Workshop – Maury Yeston asked me if I would be interested in collaborating with some writer/director named Howard Ashman on a musical of God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. Given my interest in Kurt Vonnegut and the fact that Howard was also the artistic director of his own theatre, the WPA Theater, I agreed to meet up with Mr. Ashman at my apartment. Howard arrived in torn jeans, wearing a t-shirt and leather bomber jacket, chain-smoking and quite determined to control the situation."