I thought it would be a fun way to get (‘The Count of Monte Cristo’) started here in the U.S. with my great relationship with BYU, and I’m excited to see what will happen now. The show has enjoyed incredible success in Europe and Asia, and I wanted to establish the piece there before bringing the piece to American audiences. —Frank Wildhorn
Frank Wildhorn is the only living composer to have three shows running simultaneously on Broadway, and he has selected BYU to stage the U.S. premiere production of his new musical, “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
The stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ adventure novel had its first international production at Switzerland’s Theater St. Gallen in 2009 and has subsequently enjoyed robust popularity at other stagings in Korea, Japan and throughout Europe.
“I thought it would be a fun way to get (‘The Count of Monte Cristo’) started here in the U.S. with my great relationship with BYU, and I’m excited to see what will happen now,” Wildhorn said. “The show has enjoyed incredible success in Europe and Asia, and I wanted to establish the piece there before bringing the piece to American audiences.”
“Frank (Wildhorn) felt confident that BYU will be able to pull off a first-class collegiate production,” said Tim Threlfall, a BYU professor in the university’s interdisciplinary music-dance-theatre program, who will direct “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“BYU’s relationship with Frank (Wildhorn) grew out of his recent visit to campus for a concert of his music,” said Jeff Martin, producer of BYU’s Bravo! Performing Arts series.
Wildhorn, who is also renowned in the pop world for writing the mega-hit “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” for Whitney Houston, was on campus last October to present his “Frank & Friends” concert. At that Bravo! Performing Arts production, vocalists performed selections from his Broadway shows, including “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” The New York Daily News has hailed Wildhorn as “the B’way Music Man” and “theater’s hottest composer.”
“As a producer of performing arts at the university, I spoke with him about ways to involve our students in the creation of new musical theater works and to give them opportunities to engage with professionals like him,” Martin said.
In conjunction with the concert, Wildhorn held master classes with student performers in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts.
“And he was impressed with the students that he heard sing during the master class,” Threlfall said. “Wildhorn asked, ‘Are these students your very best?’ And I said, ‘We really gave you a cross section of skill sets.’ ”
“The idea soon emerged that we could stage a full production of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ as part of our regular theater season,” Martin explained. “This will allow our students a really wonderful and unique opportunity to work with Frank (Wildhorn) and Jack Murphy and for the creators of the piece to see how local audiences respond to it. I’ve been working with him for several months on putting this project together, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
The script and lyrics for “The Count of Monte Cristo” were written by Tony Award-nominated writer Murphy, who also collaborated with Wildhorn on two of his Broadway shows, “Wonderland” and “The Civil War,” and a new musical, “Havana.”
“Jeff (Martin) has learned to make these important contacts,” Threlfall said, noting that Broadway artists such as Audra McDonald and Mandy Patinkin have performed recent concerts at BYU through Martin’s associations. The stage luminaries also presented master classes with BYU students.
“This is really new territory for both Frank (Wildhorn) and us,” Threlfall said. “For him, having one of his pieces premiered in this country at a university. And for us, to be able to work directly with a significant Broadway composer.”
During the negotiations with Wildhorn, Threlfall and Martin mentioned that actors with BYU connections have appeared in his previous Broadway productions, including Claybourne Elder (“Bonnie & Clyde”), Danny Stiles and Natalie Hill (both in “Wonderland”).
“We talked through all of his Broadway shows, and I think all of them have had at least one BYU alum in the cast. He was like, ‘Whoa, you trained all these people.’ Some of those connections helped seal the deal,” Threlfall said.
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” a novel by Alexandre Dumas, tells the story of Edmond Dantès, who was wrongfully imprisoned for life in the supposedly impregnable fortress Monte Cristo. After a daring escape, and after unearthing a hidden treasure revealed to him by a fellow prisoner, he devotes the rest of his life to tracking down and punishing the enemies who wronged him. The novel is one of Dumas’ most popular works, along with “The Three Musketeers,” and among the best-selling books of all time.
“The music of this show is, I hope, on the same scale as the bigger-than-life aspects of this show — sweeping, epic, ultra-romantic and true to all of the colors of the story,” Wildhorn said.
Although it is being billed as a student workshop staging, “The Count of Monte Cristo” will have the same production values as the university’s highly successful “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was one of the first collegiate productions of the popular musical.
Wildhorn returned to BYU a few weeks ago to participate in auditions for the production and will again be on campus during rehearsals to personally teach his songs to members of the student cast.
With Threlfall as director and Martin as creative producer, the balance of the production team includes choreographer Nathan Balser (who was in the Broadway casts of “Legally Blonde” and “Promises, Promises”), musical director Gayle Lockwood, costume designer Lara Beene and set designer Rory R. Scanlon.
“The Count of Monte Cristo,” scheduled to be staged Jan. 22-31, 2015, is part of the university’s 2014-15 theater season. Additional productions include a world-premiere stage adaptation of Shannon Hale’s young adult novel “Princess Academy” and new productions of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” Philip King’s “See How They Run” and William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”
Season tickets for BYU's 2014-15 theater season will be available beginning in mid-May. Single tickets for “The Count of Monte Cristo” will become available in late fall.