An Interview with Frank Wildhorn - Composer
Frank Wildhorn is a composer-lyricist/producer/creator whose works span the worlds of popular, theatrical and classical music. Currently Mr. Wildhorn is represented on Broadway with his musical, Jekyll & Hyde, written with Leslie Bricusse. Mr. Wildhorn also wrote material for the musical Victor/Victoria. Songs from Jekyll & Hyde such as "Someone Like You," "A New Life," and "This Is the Moment" have been performed all over the world and have been used in the Olympics, the Superbowl, the World Series and other events. Mr. Wildhorn wrote Whitney Houston's 1988 hit "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" as well as music for such performers as Natalie Cole, Kenny Rogers, The Moody Blues and Sammy Davis, Jr. His latest musical is The Civil War.
How did you become a composer?
I grew up in New York, but my family moved to Florida when I was a young teenager, and it was in Florida that I really found the music. I'm a self-taught pianist, and a self-taught composer, I guess. I played in bands, and I've played almost every kind of music- rock, jazz, rhythm & blues, show music and classical. I've always immersed myself in all types of music. When I was 15 the music just took a hold of me, and I knew by the time I was 16 exactly what I wanted to do!
What was the inspiration to write The Scarlet Pimpernel?
I started to look at the story in 1989. I looked at the movie with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, and I looked at the mini-series with Jane Seymour. I read the book. The inspiration came from a combination of all of that.
You were a history major in college, and all your shows have been set in historical periods in the past. Is this something you intended?
With a lot of these classic stories, the reason that they're classic is because what they're about transcends the time they were written in. What excites me about the theatre is creating moments in the show where the emotion is so big that people have to sing. And they're singing about the kind of emotions that transcend the show. When I'm writing Jekyll & Hyde or The Scarlet Pimpernel, I'm not writing an 1896 or 1905 story, I'm not interested in that- I'm interested in the horror, the passion and the sensuality of the story.
What advice would you give to a young person interested in becoming a composer?
I think the first thing is to be yourself. Take the influences of the world and the time you're growing up and put them into your work. If you believe in your work and you're getting encouragement from people you respect, don't take no for an answer. I mean, this is a business about failure. Look at it this way: Cole Porter wrote about 6000 songs. Now he's one of America's greatest composers, but we only know about 100 of those songs. So all those other songs just didn't get recorded, or were in shows that didn't work, or records that didn't sell, etc. But when you hit one, or a handful, it can change your life. So you have to have a mentality about that, especially at the beginning. I probably wrote 250 songs before I got the first one published. So if you believe in what you're doing, don't take no for an answer.
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