In this day and age when Broadway is decades away from being the source of music and lyrics that get airplay on the radio or make headway on the pop charts, there is perhaps no composer alive who has come closer to providing the rialto with songs that can hold their own with contemporary hits than Frank Wildhorn. The man behind such popular shows as Jekyll & Hyde; Bonnie & Clyde; Dracula, the Musical; Wonderland; The Scarlet Pimpernel; and The Civil War (as well as additional songs for Victor/Victoria) has been winning legions of loyal fans since long before he made it to Broadway in the 1990s. He first found success writing for such recording artists as Natalie Cole, Kenny Rogers, Trisha Yearwood, Patti LaBelle, Dennis DeYoung and most successfully, Whitney Houston with her international Number One hit, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" in 1988. Wildhorn also enjoys the honor of having been the only American composer in 22 years to have three productions running concurrently on Broadway: Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War in 1999.
Click through to read my selections for the Top Ten Frank Wildhorn songs.
10. "Living In The Shadows" from Victor/Victoria
When Blake Edwards adapted his hit 1982 film, "Victor/Victoria" (starring his wife, Julie Andrews), into a Broadway vehicle for Andrews in 1995, he chose Frank Wildhorn to write music (to Leslie Bricusse's lyrics) for some new songs to fill out the stage score. This dramatic 11 o'clock number met the challenge of providing a talent of Andrews' significance with material worthy of her legendary vocal gifts and presence.
9. "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" from Bonnie & Clyde
For Bonnie's 11 o'clock number in Bonnie & Clyde, Frank Wildhorn gave Broadway star Laura Osnes a feisty showpiece, which allowed her to break the mold (she'd previously inhabited in her career) of sweet ingénue and display a more dynamic persona, as was needed for the sexually voracious, Depression-era bankrobber Bonnie Parker.
8. "I Want More"
Linda Eder and Frank Wildhorn's musical marriage was a match made in heaven. The "Star Search" winner was the perfect voice for the songwriter's talents and their collaboration has produced a number of winners for the pair. Eder's most successful solo album, her 1997 debut on Atlantic Records, "It's Time" includes almost exclusively original songs Wildhorn fashioned to compliment her rangy, Streisand-esque vocals. This infectious uptempo with a driving beat is almost impossible to resist.
7. "Big Time"
Another irresistible track from "It's Time," "Big Time" takes Eder into near camp territory in its depiction of all the instructions a fat-cat impresario would give to his prodigy star. The list includes things like plastic surgery and shady accounting and namedrops virtually every show business cliché in the book. The rhymes are so on-the-nose ("We'll make a killing, we'll get top billing"), you can't not smile and the tempo changes bring out Eder's ferocity in the most pleasurable way possible.
6. "Bring On The Men" cut from Jekyll & Hyde
Good songs getting cut from shows because they don't serve overall libretto is the oldest story in the book — no pun intended. Far be it from me to question the dramaturgical instincts of the creators of Jekyll & Hyde, but thankfully, this raunchy little gem has survived in the cabaret and piano bar circuit and always gives a good-time girl the chance to give her audience, well, a good time.
5. "It's Time"
Yet another highlight from Linda Eder's perennially pleasing "It's Time" is the title track. This slow burn lush legato allows Linda to luxuriate in her best Barbra ballad mode. The swell of this richly moody song is a nostalgic callback to mid-century big band arrangements like Nelson Riddle used to do of standards for warm singers like Rosemary Clooney. It's surprising more people haven't recorded "It's Time."
4. "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?"
Frank Wildhorn's single most popular song has got to be this Whitney Houston classic. Wildhorn's melody makes the most of the brightness in Houston's tone, brilliant undercutting the sadness of the verse. Then, when Whitney opens up on the catchy chorus, it's arguably the greatest voice of the twentieth century at its peak, and the power is simply undeniable.
3. "Storybook" from The Scarlet Pimpernel
Revolutionary France proved to be a fertile milieu for Frank Wildhorn's music. He adapted his signature soaring style to the period with aplomb for the swashbuckling story of "The Scarlet Pimpernel." Among all the songs in the score, none fulfills the feeling of the world of the show better than the lilting "Storybook." Especially worth a listen is Patti LuPone's recording (in a mash-up with "Love Makes The World Go Round" from Carnival) as the opening track on her "Matters of the Heart" album.
2. "Someone Like You" from Jekyll & Hyde
There are those who will recoil from Frank Wildhorn's intensively emotive, bombastic ballad style. There is perhaps no more perfect example of this than "Someone Like You." If the haters gonna hate, then at least for those who love the histrionics Wildhorn provides divas (specifically his muse, Linda Eder), this is a spectacularly thrilling concoction.
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1. "This Is The Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde
Without a doubt, Frank Wildhorn's most impactful composition has to be "This Is The Moment" from Jekyll & Hyde. This barnburner musicalizes the "moment" before Dr. Jekyll tests the formula which brings about his transformation into the evil Mr. Hyde and generates the thrust of the story. Wildhorn's achievement here is a song that works dramatically in the musical but also fits perfectly out of context, repurposed for any moment in life when someone is embarking on a major endeavor. As such, "This Is The Moment" has proved tremendously popular in numerous forms across the world over the years.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, performs through Dec. 18 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)