Concert preview: Perfectly Frank: Pop goes Broadway with 'Wildhorn & Friends' at BYU Bravo! series

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 1 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

There is no contemporary musician who has approached the same level of success Frank Wildhorn has across two fields of music: composing for the theater and writing pop hits.

With “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War,” he was the first composer in 22 years to have three shows running simultaneously on Broadway, and that record has since been unbroken. Wildhorn wrote Whitney Houston’s mega-hit “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” and roughly 150 tunes sung by artists as varied as Kenny Rogers, Natalie Cole, Trisha Yearwood, Patti LaBelle and the Moody Blues.

“But I’m a piano player; that’s how I started,” he says. “And I miss being the piano player. It’s great therapy for me, it gives me great joy and it’s something I really enjoy doing.”

The internationally popular composer brings “Frank Wildhorn & Friends” to the deJong Concert Hall Oct. 3 as part of BYU’s Bravo! Performing Arts series.

“With the concerts, after my years as a writer for theater and in the pop world, I can also explain how I taught Sammy Davis Jr. this and Liza Minnelli that and Whitney Houston this,” he adds. “People seem to enjoy listening to those stories. So the combination of playing with a band again, which I love to do so much, and being able to share those stories has led to this new thing in my life, with ‘Frank & Friends.’ ”

Though a variety of soloists have appeared with Wildhorn, making each concert unique, the BYU performance will be unlike the preceding outings. “This will be the first time for a bunch of things,” he says, including:

  • The first performance where he was hired directly by a university to perform, instead of through a commercial booking agency.
  • The first time “Into the Fire,” the stirring breakout anthem of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” will be sung with a large chorus of men’s voices at his concert.
  • The first time works from his latest show “Excalibur,” which will open in Switzerland in March, will be publicly performed.
  • The first time songs will be included from “Bonnie & Clyde,” his last-seen-on-Broadway musical.
“ ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ is bittersweet for me,” he explains. “I love it very much, and audiences love the show. It’s been staged internationally and been a hit everywhere it’s played, except for one city, New York City.”

While “Jekyll & Hyde” ran for four years on Broadway, his subsequent musicals have struggled to duplicate the long-running, widely sold out success. Wildhorn is highly popular with audiences, but he still gets the cold shoulder from some New York theater critics adverse to his pop pedigree.

Wildhorn is aware that “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is immensely popular in Utah and he lights up to learn that “Bonnie & Clyde” will receive its state première when Utah Repertory Theater Company produces the fan-favorite musical Nov. 8-23.

“I’m so excited that Utah will be able to see ‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ ” he says. “The show is very much a bit of Americana and something I’m very proud of. There’s been an enormous reaction to the show across the country. I know ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ is going to have a long life.”

After tryouts in La Jolla, Calif., and Sarasota, Fla. — where it enjoyed large, enthusiastic audiences and received encouraging reviews — the 2011 Broadway production starred the two hottest performers in musical theater, Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes, alongside Utah native Claybourne Elder as Clyde’s loyal brother Buck. “Bonnie & Clyde” has received praise for its hauntingly melodic compositions, with rockabilly, jazz and country influences.

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