Q&A With Frank Wildhorn: Back on Broadway With “Jekyll & Hyde”

Q&A With Frank Wildhorn: Back on Broadway With “Jekyll & Hyde”
Composer Frank Wildhorn
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Linda Eder, his ex-wife and one-time muse, calls it his “unhealthy obsession with Broadway.” His associates in the pop recording world think he’s nuts. But composer Frank Wildhorn, as passionate about baseball as he is about theater, says that Broadway is Yankee Stadium. “Where else would I want to play?” he says. So after striking out last season on two new musicals, “Wonderland” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” Wildhorn is back at bat with a revival of “Jekyll & Hyde.” It is his one Broadway success after he segued, in 1990, to musical theater following a lucrative career as a songwriter of hits, including Whitney Houston’s “Where Do the Broken Hearts Go?” The revival, starring Constantine Maroulis in the title role and Debra Cox as his love interest, comes on the heels of producers Mike Medavoy and Rick Nicita announcing that they are developing the film version of “Jekyll & Hyde.” Indeed the show has proved so popular post-Broadway that one of its anthems, “This Is the Moment,” has been dubbed “This Is My Mortgage.” And while Broadway has been inhospitable terrain for Wildhorn — this is his eighth New York opening — Europe and Asia have proved much more fertile ground.  Eleven productions of his musicals are slated for Asia this year alone. He recently spoke with ARTINFO’s Patrick Pacheco about his hopes for “Jekyll & Hyde” and why this prophet goes unappreciated in his own land. To see a video of part of their conversation, click here

Do you really want to get your heart broken again?

Of course not. What can I tell you? I fell in love with the theater. I was at the top of the heap in the pop business and all my friends were saying, “What are you doing? You’re crazy!” But when I was a USC undergraduate, a history major, I got involved in the theater department. John Houseman, the artistic director there, and I had this wonderful and strange relationship. He didn’t like my music because he didn’t really like anything post-Rachmaninoff. But he liked my spirit and he was very encouraging.

Did any shows come out of that USC period?

Yes. “Jekyll & Hyde” started there. And “Rudolf,” my show about the Hapsburg Empire. It’s in Vienna.

“Jekyll” ran for four years on Broadway and the word was that it never made its money back.

That’s a total myth! It absolutely made its money back. And it continues to play all over the world. It has been an enormous success. And it doesn’t get credit for bringing the pop music business and the musical theater together in ways that benefitted both of them tremendously. I forced them to do it. The record companies sold lots of records and Linda Eder and Bob Cuccioli [the original stars] became very well known.

What are your goals for this revival?

I told the producers that I wasn’t interested in a revival. I wanted to re-imagine it. And Jeff [Calhoun, the director] was the perfect choice because he’d never seen a performance of it. He had no reference point. If you know Jeff, he’s all about heart. He put is heart and soul into “Bonnie and Clyde.” He’s doing the same to this.

You’re incredibly prolific: “Camille Claudel,” “Count of Monte Cristo,” “Havana,” “Excalibur,” “Carmen,” “Mata Hari,” “Cyrano,” “Dracula.” The list goes on. Some critics have suggested that they are under-developed. 

No! Quite the contrary. The shows sometimes take seven years to write. If you’re working in one musical vocabulary for so long, you’re going to get stale. If I’m working on “Dracula,” I love to take a break and work on “Havana.” If I’m working on a big romantic European musical like “Rudolf,” I want to do “Wonderland” the next day, this eclectic pop score. I just can’t do one thing at a time.

But there is a skepticism when someone is so prolific. Do you think that’s why New York critics have been so rough on you?

I understand that. But that’s so not fair. What? Am I supposed to write less? Don’t forget, I’m always doing demos. Being in the studio is a workshop for me on the shows. So we do readings and workshops plus the constant demos. The shows get worked to death.

You write for singers. Given how much work you do in Asia and Europe, have you found the caliber of talent to be equal to here?

Their A-team is as good as our A-team. They’re killer singers. On top of that, look, the prestigious opera house in St. Gallen, Switzerland commissions you to write “The Count of Monte Cristo.” You have a 50-piece orchestra, 30 in the cast, and 30 in the choir. You have over 100 people making your music. It’s been running for four years. Here on Broadway, I’d have to work with 15 players and a bunch of synthesizers. In Prague, my “Carmen” has been running for five years with the biggest Czech star in the country, Lucie Bila, with not only 60 in the cast but also a full gypsy circus with trapeze artists, lions, llamas, and camels. The copyrights are healthy for all these shows, nobody’s pissing on them, the songs are being recorded [laughs]. What’s the problem?

What of your new shows are we next likely to see on Broadway?

When I make the attempt, which I probably will soon, it’ll most likely be with “Monte Cristo.” It’s a fear. I’m afraid.

Of what?

The critics will kill it. 

Do you think it’ll damage the franchise?

I hope not. But I’ve never done it that way. “Dracula” was not a success here. But it’s been a success around the world. I’ve never taken a show that was a success around the world first and then brought it here to Broadway. I wrestle with the idea of bringing “Monte Cristo” here but I love it.  “Carmen,” also. But there are other mediums to do it in it other than Broadway.

You mean a movie?  You mentioned there’s a 3-D Czech film of “Carmen.”

If J. Lo or Shakira want to make a vehicle for themselves out of “Carmen,” there are other mediums other than Broadway. A movie or an HBO special. I hope that making the deal on “Jekyll” with Mike Medavoy and Rick Nicita — two powerhouses — will open up all kinds of possibilities. There are different ways of slicing these things now thanks to the success of “Mamma Mia!” and “Les Mis” and other film musicals. And I’m just starting to touch the surface. 

For more conversation between Frank Wildhorn and Patrick Pacheco, watch the video below: