BYU to stage US premiere of Frank Wildhorn musical 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

Published: Saturday, April 12 2014 1:00 p.m. MDT

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.

Why BYU?

“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.

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