Composer Frank Wildhorn bridges pop and Broadway
In this March 29, 2013 photo, composer Frank Wildhorn sits inside a theater in West Palm Beach, Fla. Wildhorn first found success as a pop and R&B songwriter, penning Whitney Houston's ballad "Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” He ruled Broadway in the late 1990s when he had three shows running simultaneously, a nearly four-year run for "Jekyll and Hyde," "The Scarlett Pimpernel" and "The Civil War," which all were nominated for Tony Awards. Now, Wildhorn's eighth Broadway show, a revamped revival of "Jekyll and Hyde," opens on April 18. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Frank Wildhorn sits in the lobby of a South Florida hotel, wearing a baseball cap and flip-flops, happy to be back home by the ocean. He's remarkably unfrazzled, even though he's days away from his eighth Broadway show opening, a revamped revival of "Jekyll and Hyde."
He even noticeably brightens when Steely Dan's "Do It Again" comes across the speakers. "I played this every night in the '70s," he says, grinning.
There's no doubt that Wildhorn knows a good song — he's written enough of them himself. He first found success as a pop and R&B songwriter, penning Whitney Houston's ballad "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," and has since had his tunes sung by everyone from Liza Minnelli to Trisha Yearwood.
But despite his impressive resume, Wildhorn is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde figure himself. Adored by singers, he still gets the cold shoulder from some New York theater critics who seem adverse to his pop pedigree.
"A handful of New York critics give me a hard time. You've got to take that with some perspective," Wildhorn says. "That's not who I write for. I write for the people who pay for the tickets."
The nagging outsider label seems almost ironic given Wildhorn ruled Broadway in the late 1990s when he had three shows running simultaneously, a nearly four-year run for "Jekyll," ''The Scarlett Pimpernel" and "The Civil War," which all were nominated for Tony. Julie Andrews also personally called Wildhorn and asked him to write songs for her in "Victor/Victoria" after Henry Mancini's death.
But Wildhorn has had a tough time on Broadway recently, with back-to-back shows that struggled. His 2011 musical "Wonderland," an updated telling of "Alice in Wonderland," was poorly reviewed and his "Bonnie & Clyde" closed early last year, although it was nominated for a best score Tony.
He's been well received internationally, with several shows currently running, including "Dracula" in Europe and a lengthy run of "Carmen" in Prague. More than 100 productions of "Jekyll" have run around the world in Germany, Austria, Spain, Japan and Australia with 32 international recordings in 28 different languages.
The unassuming 54-year-old says his international success has given him more creative freedom outside the Broadway clique. In turn, he's given artistic directors in each country the freedom to interpret his shows to fit their own culture so the shows aren't cookie cutouts. "The Count of Monte Cristo" in Switzerland, for example, plays with a 50-piece orchestra and 30-piece choir.