PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Frank Wildhorn

By Kenneth Jones
25 Jan 2011

Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts
photo by Michal Daniel

You took the "Alice" idea to Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy?
FW: I talked to Jack and Greg about it because I loved the experiences that we've had together as a team. Of course, Greg is the reason I do this in the first place, because in giving birth to Jekyll & Hyde, which was the first show I ever wrote in my life, ever — not knowing what the hell I was doing, and it was the first show for Linda and all of that. Greg has a great, giant imagination and he goes with me. And so I thought he would be great, and the thing about Jack is, Jack is a great pop writer and he's a great theatre writer, and this show requires both. There are some songs that have a kind of traditional theatre responsibility in moving plots along or giving you insights into characters and things like that, but he also knows how to write a pop song — and not a Broadway version of a pop song. A real pop song.

What is it about you and Jack that works so well?
FW: Jack is a real student of the theatre. Jack's an intellectual. I am not. [Laughs.] If you know Linda's songs, you know how clever Jack can be. He does that "Cole Porter for the new century" thing, and of course, with Linda, we have the greatest voice in the world to [sing] that [material]. Jack has the ability to be as clever as anybody can be, but he also knows how to be simple and how to be much more of a pop writer. We've had success doing that, and I love that combination, especially in a show that really requires the both of those crafts, and again, not the Broadway version of a thing, but a real thing. I think he's just fantastic, and we have so much fun doing it. We have all these shows around the world now, and each one has been such an adventure, and we enjoy each other's company.

When you say, "Not a Broadway version, but a pure pop version of a song," there's still a responsibility, story-telling wise.
FW: Well, you know, [Laughs], when George Gershwin and Cole Porter were writing the hits of their day and they were all from shows, were they theatre pieces or were they pop pieces? You tell me. If you want to get into that, that's my favorite conversation forever. [Laughs.] "Some Enchanted Evening" is a standard pop song. It happens to work fantastically in the show it's in. It has everything you would want from the craft of writing for theatre, but don't tell me it's not a pop song. All that means is — when I say that, I want to be very clear — all that means is that it was popular and accessible enough to transcend the show it was in and live on its own accord.



What was the biggest challenge of the storytelling of Wonderland?
FW: That's a very good question. Alice goes to Wonderland because her daughter is kidnapped, and when she goes to Wonderland, she both has to find her daughter, but in finding her daughter, she has to find the child within herself that she's lost. [The goal is] making that clear and being consistent to that theme as we tell the story of Wonderland. It's like Dorothy going to Oz. You're going to meet all of these great characters, you're going to have a plot that you have to deal with, and all of this kind of stuff. But holding on to that theme — you know how it is. You work in New York. We go so fast that sometimes we forget that Wonderland could be in our daily lives, you know what I mean? And we get caught up in the race and stuff, and sometimes we don't slow down to realize that Wonderland could be a very ordinary thing and we lose the child in ourselves a little bit. I know, myself, I try very hard and make a conscious effort not to do that. Now, it's easy when you have kids that keep you young all the time [Laughs] and stuff like that, because of that energy. But let's face it, we're in a tough business in a tough world and it goes so fast. To try to hold on to that kid in you is sometimes not easy, and I think, as we were told this story, keeping that theme so the audience would leave with that, was a good challenge, a good mountain to climb, and I think we've done a pretty good job doing that.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Write to him at kjones@playbill.com.)