Keep It Composed

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“This is the Moment” seems a befitting theme for Broad- way music composer Frank
Wildhorn’s life. It is the title of his ubiquitous song recorded over 1,000 times, and performed at four Olympics, the World Cup, World Series and president Bill Clinton’s inauguration. It also depicts his impulsively roman- tic decision to reside in Hawai‘i with his wife after being grounded here due to a streak of flight cancellations. A consequence of sheer providence now seems strategic, as Honolulu becomes a base of operations for a writer with 19 musical openings in Asia over the next 18 months.

A self-taught pianist, Wildhorn cultivated a musical ability as a teenager, leading him to work with the likes of Natalie Cole, Kenny Rogers, Liza Minnelli and Johnny Mathis. However, “timing is everything” was an ostinato that described Wildhorn’s brushes with serendipity, connecting him to notable luminaries.

Born in Harlem, Wildhorn moved from New York to Hollywood, Florida, at age 14. Florida’s mise en scene in the ’70s fueled his desire to transform a dalliance with soul, R&B, jazz and pop music into a life- long pursuit. His father did not share the same enthusiasm for Wildhorn’s cover band career. Yet, Wildhorn persevered in his mantra: “Wherever the music takes me, that’s where I’m going.”

While attending University of Southern California, he serenaded renowned actor John Houseman with an idea for a show. Taking a liking to the ambitious student, Houseman agreed to produce Wildhorn’s hit musical Christopher. The production’s success attracted industry experts in Los Angeles, and he garnered his first publishing deal right out of college.

In 1988, Wildhorn’s life changed. His most notable song Where Do Broken Hearts Go immortalized by Whitney Houston sold over 50 million records. More importantly, he met Academy Award-winning songwriter Leslie Bricusse, who he worked with in scripting Jekyll & Hyde based on the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In 1988, Wildhorn met Gregory Boyd, who ran Alley Theatre in Houston, and by 1989, they were in rehearsals for the first version of Jekyll & Hyde. Before its 1990 opening, Wildhorn signed with RCA to do the first concept recording featuring Irish tenor Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and Star Search winner Linda Eder, who caught Wildhorn’s eye.

“You know there’s the idea that when you go to a show, you want to come out humming the melody? Well, my idea was I want people to come in humming the melodies,” he shares.

Wildhorn’s strategy paid off. In 1994, he received a call from Julie Andrews, who was with Henry Mancini and Bricusse developing the Broadway rendition of Victor/Victoria.
“Henry took ill and wasn’t able to finish the show for the theater version, and the last person in the world that they should pick was me. I hadn’t done one show yet, and everyone on the show was legendary,” he humbly recollects. “But Julie heard Linda’s first album that I had done, and the Jekyll & Hyde concept record, and said to Leslie, ‘Get Frank. Frank will write the rest of it.’ And so my first gig on Broadway was writing the 11 o’clock song Living in the Shadows.”

With audiences jubilantly imbibing his acoustic elixirs, Jekyll & Hyde was ready for Broadway in 1997, inaugurating the next stanza in Wildhorn’s career. He opened The Scarlett Pimpernel in 1997, and The Civil War in 1998. “And before you know it, I had three shows on Broadway at the same time,” he proudly claimed, being the first American in more than 20 years to do so.

By this time, he married Eder, had their son Jake and reconciled with his father. Running a division of Atlantic Records and having an episode of 60 Minutes chronicling his feat assuaged his father’s woes.

In the early 2000s, Wildhorn’s marriage to Eder was marked by a cadence, but his overseas success with Jekyll & Hyde and Dracula, the Musical expanded his attention internationally. Commissioned to do shows such as The Count of Monte Cristo and Mata Hari, among others, he was triumphant in Europe and Asia. He was the first Westerner in Japan to write songs for Takarazuka Revue’s Never Say Goodbye, a musical that connected him to his lovely bride, award-winning performing artist Yoka Wao.

Despite a 16-month diminuendo precipitated by the pandemic, the momentum of success for Wildhorn continues to crescendo. Alexander Dinelaris, who produced Birdman and The Revenant, is currently developing the screenplay for Jekyll & Hyde.

In Korea, where Jekyll & Hyde continues to revel in an 18-year streak as the most successful American show in Korean history, Wildhorn has another musical, Excalibur, headlined by K-pop star Jungsu of JYJ.

Now a resident of Honolulu, he disclosed a tease about a project slated here. Hawai‘i will have to wait to hear what that is, as Wildhorn’s fortuitous tempo will reveal.

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