Born in 1959 in New York City, NY; married singer Linda Eder, 1998. Education: Attended Miami University and the University of Southern California. Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104 Phone: (212) 707-2533 Fax: (212) 405-5665.
Best known for his popular musicals, Frank Wildhorn became one of the most successful theater composers of the 1990s. In 1999, he was the first American artist in 22 years to see three of his shows running simultaneously on Broadway--Jekyll & Hyde at the Plymouth Theatre, The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Minskoff Theatre, and The Civil War at the St, James Theatre. But Wildhorn does not like the term "Broadway" used to describe his work. "It's theater! It's not Broadway!," he rebuked an interviewer from the Minskoff (where The Scarlet Pimpernel first opened) when she spoke the word in reference to his longtime love affair with the stage, as quoted by Diane Krieger in the USC Trojan Family Magazine. "Broadway," he quickly informed her, "is a few blocks between a couple of avenues. I believe theater is a national and international word." Described by most as unpretentious and unaffected, despite all the fame that surrounds him, Wildhorn scoffs at the New York institution's tendency to seem elitist and narrow in scope.
Judging by the reactions of several theater critics and Broadway insiders, Wildhorn's outbursts are not all that surprising. Although Broadway has encouraged the considerable hoopla that surrounds him--The New York Daily News hailed him as the "B'way Music Man" and "the theater's hottest composer"--it has simultaneously loaded him down with an equal measure of abuse. Nominated for a mere five Tony Awards collectively for his shows, none of which resulted in a win, Wildhorn likewise has yet to win the favor of critics, who routinely trash his productions. For example, the New York Times called Jekyll & Hyde "leaden, solemnly campy," Newsday labeled The Scarlet Pimpernel "galumphing, dunderheaded," and the New York Times bashed The Civil War as "one bland stream of dentist's office pop," going so far as to scold the audience for enjoying it.
However, poor reviews failed to rattle Wildhorn, and his adoring fans enable him to virtually become critic-proof. His shows drew in millions of theater goers each year, while at times, with somewhere around a half a dozen productions being performed around the world simultaneously, a reported 40,000 people may attend a Wildhorn musical in a single night. "I'm called 'That Pop Guy,'" the composer once told the Los Angeles Times, discussing his mass appeal. "What do they want me to be? 'The Unpop Guy?'" Wildhorn, indeed, does possess a knack for writing pop music. In addition to his musicals, he also penned songs recorded by Whitney Houston (including the international number-one hit "Where Do Broken Hearts Go"), Natalie Cole, Travis Tritt, and his wife, singer Linda Eder (whose Atlantic Records albums It's Time and It's No Secret Anymore were written and co-produced by Wildhorn).
Born to Jewish parents in New York City in 1959, Wildhorn spent his early childhood in Harlem, the Bronx, and Queens before his family moved to Hollywood, Florida, when he was 14. But he was never really interested in music growing up, and discovered his talent for composing almost by chance. "I took piano lessons when I was nine years old for two weeks. I dropped that immediately because it was getting into my football time," he told Nancy Rosati for The Scarlet Pimpernel website. Later, at the age of 15, Wildhorn picked up music again when he started fiddling around on the family organ in between football practices. Before long, he realized he wanted to compose. "That happened the second I started teaching myself how to play the piano," Wildhorn continued. "I'm an ex-jock that writes songs. Writing, to me, is not an intellectual or a cerebral exercise. It's very much an emotional or sensual kind of thing. I always say that writing is like fishing. The songs are there. Some days I catch a big one ... some days I don't catch much."
As a teen, Wildhorn played in and wrote music for various bands, from rock and roll and R&B to jazz. To this day, he prefers not to limit himself to working exclusively for the theater. "I just love music," he explained. "I'm a composer. When I work in the theater, I'm a theater composer. When I'm writing for Whitney Houston or Kenny Rogers or Natalie Cole, I'm a pop composer. I've been commissioned by the Bolshi Ballet to do a full length ballet, so I'm a classical composer when I'm doing that. I'm just a composer, and depending on the medium I work in, that's what I am that day."
After high school, the aspiring composer attended nearby Miami University for one year, then transferred to the University of Southern California where he studied history and philosophy by day and played gigs and made industry contacts by night. Also in college, he started writing Jekyll & Hyde with a classmate. In 1990, an album of songs from the show appeared, and soon afterward, Jekyll & Hyde debuted at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas. Then it lay dormant for several years, though songs from the work filtered through the pop mainstream. One song in particular, "In This Moment," became a hit the world over, and was heard at such events as President Bill Clinton's inauguration and the Winter Olympics. In 1995, Jekyll & Hyde took the stage again, proving itself a cult favorite before landing on Broadway in the spring of 1997. The show went on to productions in Madrid, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, London, and Australia, as well as a two-year tour of America, beginning in April of 1999.
Similarly, The Scarlet Pimpernel took its course to Broadway via the pop charts with a concept album and a Top 40 single, "You Are My Home," sung by Eder and Peabo Bryson. After closing at the Minskoff, where it premiered in November of 1997, the show went on to theaters in Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta, followed by a national tour and a return to New York at the Neil Simon Theatre. Again, Wildhorn survived scathing criticism, including condemnations that his music sounded "too commercial." Even Kathleen Raitt, producer of The Scarlet Pimpernel, admitted, "Nobody but the public loves his music" while close friends resorted to sending him early negative reviews of Puccini and Verdi operas to make him feel better. "There's a tendency to get bitter and cynical, but I'm not going to do that," he said to Richard Zoglin of Time. "I've got too much joy."
In the fall of 1998, The Civil War, for which Wildhorn set to music letter, diaries, and other documents from the war, opened at Houston's Alley Theatre. Next, it moved to Broadway, then, after earning Tony nominations in 1999 for Best New Musical and Best Score, to a national tour that lasted until 2001. Prior to its opening, Wildhorn released a double concept album of The Civil War. Many stars participated in the project, among them Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Doctor John, and Betty Buckley. A single album entitled The Nashville Sessions was also released.
Wildhorn's next venture was The Romantics, a multi-album project in collaboration with Stephen Schwartz, Maury Yeston, and Don Black, expected for release in 2001. Additionally, he kept busy writing numerous other musicals and projects, including Wonderland, a show in development with magician David Copperfield; Havana, a romantic musical comedy written by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy; Ali Svengali, a musical biography written by Boyd; Big Nose, a musical for children; and Vampyr, a gothic opera based on the Bram Stoker classic Dracula.
Further, Wildhorn served as an Associate Artist in Musical Theatre with an endowed chair at the Alley Theatre, where Svengali opened as well, wrote music for Arthur Knight's play The Road to Nirvana, scored the play Cyrano de Bergerac, and composed additional songs for Julie Andrews in the remounted Broadway show Victor/Victoria. Involved in a long-term working relationship with Warner Brothers Pictures, Wildhorn is in the midst of developing animated feature films and live action musical projects. He also acted as Creative Director of Atlantic Theatre, a division of Atlantic Records. In this position, he helps develop new American music and potential stars, and works to bridge the gap between commercial theater and the music industry. Wildhorn resides in North Salem, New York, dividing his time between the East Coast and Los Angeles. He has two sons: Justin, an older son from a previous marriage, and Jake, his son with Eder.
In addition to Houston, Cole, and Rogers, Wildhorn's music has been performed and recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., Liza Minelli, Julie Andrews, Freddie Jackson, Peabo Bryson, Linda Eder, Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter, Tracy Lawrence, John Berry, Trace Adkins, Travis Tritt, Patti La Belle, Bebe Williams, Bryan White, Betty Buckley, Ben Vereen, Regina Bell, the Moody Blues, Jeffrey Osborne, Jennifer Holliday, Stacy Lattisaw, Dennis DeYoung, Molly Hatchet, Brenda Russell, John Raitt, Anthony Warlow, Stanley Turrentine, and Colm Wilkinson.
by Laura Hightower
Frank Wildhorn's Career
Began composing and teaching himself to play piano at age 15; played with rock, R&B, and jazz bands in high school; Jekyll & Hyde concept album and stage production debuted, 1990; The Scarlet Pimpernel premiered at the Minskoff Theatre, November 1997; The Civil Waropened at Houston's Alley Theatre, 1998; served as an Associate Artist in Musical Theatre with an endowed chair at the Alley Theatre, as well as Creative Director of Atlantic Theatre, a division of Atlantic Records; has penned songs recorded by Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, Travis Tritt, and Linda Eder.
- Selected discography
- Jekyll & Hyde: Concept Recording , BMG/RCA Victor, 1990.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Concept Recording , EMI Angel, 1992.
- Jekyll & Hyde: The Complete Work , Atlantic, 1994.
- Jekyll & Hyde: Original Broadway Cast , Atlantic Theatre, 1997.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Original Broadway Cast , Atlantic Theatre, 1998.
- The Civil War: Nashville Sessions , Atlantic, 1998.
- Jekyll & Hyde: The Bremen Highlights , Polydor, 1999.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel: Encore! , Atlantic Theatre, 1999.
- The Civil War: The Complete Work , Atlantic Theatre, 1999.
- American Record Guide, July/August 1999.
- American Theatre, October 1998.
- Boston Globe,July 20, 2000.
- Forbes, March 22, 1999.
- Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1999.
- New York Times, November 10, 2000; September 17, 2000.
- People, June 22, 1998.
- Time, December 22, 1997; May 3, 1999.
- USC Trojan Family Magazine, Spring 2000.
- Wall Street Journal, March 4, 1999.
- Washington Post, July 9, 2000.
- Official Frank Wildhorn Website, http://www.frankwildhorn.com (December 13, 2000).
- The Scarlet Pimpernel website, http://www.thepimpernel.com (December 13, 2000).