Interview with Frank Wildhorn
This was the first time I had met Frank Wildhorn, and I think the word I would use to describe him is "unpretentious." Despite all his talent, his fame and the hoopla that surrounds him, he remains unaffected. He's just a guy who loves his wife and family, loves his job, and seems so totally at peace with his life.
NR: I read that you were born in New York and raised in Florida.
FW: I was born in Harlem and I was here until I was fourteen. Then I lived in Hollywood, Florida until seventeen, and since then California and New York, back and forth continuously.
NR: So you've spent some time living in New York. Do you think the city had a big influence on you?
FW: The city itself? Sure. Just given the multi-ethnicity of it, you get to hear so many rhythms. Yeah, absolutely.
NR: Did you write music as a child?
FW: No. 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. I didn't pick it up again until I picked it up myself when I was fifteen.
NR: So, when did you decide you wanted to compose for a living?
FW: That happened the second I started teaching myself how to play the piano. 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.
I'm a self-taught musician. I learned to play in Florida and soon thereafter I had my bands - rock and roll bands, jazz bands, R & B bands. But I was always writing original things for the bands while we were doing cover tunes. I really can't remember a day that I didn't play or that I didn't write.
NR: Did you set your sights on Broadway early, or did that come later on?
FW: First of all, it's theater, it's not Broadway. Broadway's a few blocks between a couple avenues...
NR: OK, that's true. I suppose I should have said "theater."
FW: But there's a huge difference, and it's that "Broadway mentality" that I kind of shy away from. I believe theater is a national and international world. It's for everybody. It's mostly for the people who pay their hard-earned money and come and want to go on a journey with you. I think the word "Broadway" unto itself is kind of limiting, and as a matter of fact, these days, as I'm sure you're aware if you read the press, it's a mentality that I would like to be much more than. I think it's a very closed mentality.
NR: OK, let's rephrase that. Did you set your sights on theater writing early?
FW: No. I just love music. 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 Bolshoi 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.
NR: I've read a few interviews with you about the way you write, but I doubt that everybody else has read those. You said you do it differently...
FW: Well, I just never do it the same way twice. When I'm writing for an artist like Linda (Eder), my wife, or I'm writing for a pop artist, I'm very free. When I sit down, I'm free and I can go wherever the emotions or thoughts or feelings I have take me that day. I try to be as honest as I can be with the music. When I'm writing for the theater, then I have different responsibilities. I have responsibilities to the show and to where the show wants to go. So, whether it's to move a plot point along with my music, or for the music to give you insight into the emotions or feelings of the character, then all of a sudden I have some parameters. What am I looking for in that space? So, I write to that responsibility. It's different. It's always different.
NR: Is that a little harder when you have limits?
FW: No. Actually it makes it more fun because it's never the same way twice. In one single day of writing, I'll write for the theater and for pop or different things, and the reason I do that is to keep myself fresh. So many writers...if you write only one thing and you're so focused on one thing and nothing else, (especially when your hands are at the piano, they tend to go to the same place a lot), and I try to diversify that as much as I can.
NR: That was my next question. It seems like you are working on many projects at once.
FW: (big smile) I have to. I have a very short attention span. Right now I'm working on three or four shows. We've just finished Linda's new album. I'm getting ready to start a big new project here at Atlantic (Records) - an album project. I've got to do it that way.
NR: Does it get confusing at all?
FW: No, it keeps it exciting.
NR: That's great. Do you actively look for source material if you want to write a show? Or, do you just stumble on something and say, "Wow, this would make a great musical?"
FW: Again, it's really a combination of both. Sometimes somebody will bring me an idea and I will say, "That's worth exploring. Let me see if I can find the musical vocabulary for that." Scarlet Pimpernel is the best example of that. That project was brought to me by Jimmy Nederlander, Sr. in 1989. I had not seen the movie and I had not read the book. I didn't know what a pimpernel was, so I did my research. I read the books...there's many of them...it's a series actually. I saw the movie. Then I saw the mini-series and I tried to find the musical vocabulary that would work for me. I did and then we went from there. That's an example that came from an outside source, as opposed to Jekyll & Hyde which really was my idea. I wanted to do that.
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