Meet the stars: Interview with Broadway composer and Broadway actors

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Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn and Broadway actors Norm Lewis, Jackie Burns and Adrienne Warren recently participated in a Q&A at BYU. The broadway performers spoke about their experiences with theatre as well as their time working with Wildhorn. Wildhorn provided his thoughts about BYU and his experience working on The Count of Monte Cristo.

Wildhorn’s musical adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo had its U.S. premiere at BYU in January of this year. Lewis, Warren and Burns will perform “This is the Moment: Musical of Frank Wildhorn” with Wildhorn, the BYU Symphony Orchestra and BYU Musical Theatre Chorus on Oct. 30, 2015 in de Jong Concert Hall. For more information, see our story on the event.

Frank Wildhorn is a multi-Grammy and Tony nominated Broadway composer. (Photo: )

 Frank Wildhorn

Q: You came here in 2013 then for Count of Monte Cristo and now you’re back. How did you become a BYU fan?

A: “A college is like a business, it’s about the people who run it. It’s all about relationships. I met Frank Martin. We hit it off. He’s got a vision. He brings these real life experiences to the students, more than they could ever learn otherwise. As an artist, the most you can ask for is for voice to be heard. Martin let my voice be heard here.”

Q: What was it like working on Monte Cristo? What was it like seeing it on stage in U.S.?

A: “First time I heard it in English in many years. I’ve heard it in Check, Hungarian, Russian, Korean. It was great. We learned a lot ourselves from having it here, especially with the size and scale BYU gave us. That’s been implemented in the re-writing of the show. It gave the kids real life working experience.”

Q: Why did you choose to produce The Count of Monte Cristo outside the U.S. first?

A: “That style is not what New York is about right now. I felt like The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll and Hyde were at the tail end of that. Because I come from a pop background, I was taught that you write for the world. Love and music knows no borders. The world of theatre is changing dramatically right now. I do a lot of work in Japan. their attitude is Asian market it’s most of the people in the world are there. That market is so gigantic and their just now doing their own work and I’m proud to be part of that.”

Q: I noticed you write a lot of musicals based on classical literature. Is that because you like classical literature or do you feel that fits your musical style?

A: “I am a history major from USC. Music is self taught thing. Musicals come from the fact that I have two sons and trying to introduce them to literature they maybe weren’t interested, write it in musical vocabulary. Civil War came from my kid studying in middle school. He was studying the Civil War and Frederick Douglas’ speech. My son wasn’t getting it and I didn’t like that he wasn’t getting it so I said ‘If Hootie and the Blowfish’ was singing it would you get it?’ He gave me this look and made the mistake of saying, ‘Yeah Dad, you go make that happen.’ So that’s where Civil War started.”

Natalie Bothwell
Norm Lewis is the first African American to play The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (Photo: Natalie Bothwell)

Norm Lewis

Q: How was teaching the masterclass today?

A: “It was great; it was just too short. I like talking to kids — young adults.”

Q: What was the main lesson you felt you taught them?

A: “Two things: have passion for what you are doing, be a whole person. Be self aware, understand who you are because there’s a lot of negativity that comes towards you.”

Q: What has it been like working with Frank Wildhorn for this concert? Is it your first time working with him?

A: “It hasn’t been work. It’s been fun. First time. Yes. Oh, I lied. We did recording together but first show.”

Q: How did you get the role of The Phantom of the Opera? Was vocal range brought up?

A: “I had been campaigning for that show for at least 15 to 17 years because I saw it and loved the show and always wanted to be a part of it. I never really thought they would hire me, but I still wanted it as a dream role of mine. I knew Robert Guillaume had done the role in 1990 in L.A. but after getting asked what is your dream role I would name a few other shows and then say “oh and phantom.” We were at a conference and someone was asking me about minorities in theatre and the challenges that we face and on that panel was Hal Prince and David Caddick who are the director and musical superior of the Phantom on Broadway so I said what I said about Phantom and I gave them a wink and a nod. I had an opportunity to audition because of that. They brought me in and took a chance and the rest is history.”

Q: Was your vocal range a concern or brought up?

A: “No, because now a days composers write songs and they don’t care where it starts and where it ends. So I just had to learn how to sing those different notes — low to high. It may have been a concern, but no one ever said anything. Did they lower the key? and now the guy who replaced me is a baritone — James Barbour. I tell the kids now when people ask me, ‘What are you a baritone?’ I say ‘What note do you want me to hit? Let me try it and see if it fits.'”

Jackie Burns played Elphaba in Wiked on Broadway and was stand-by for India Menzel in If/Then on Broadway (Photo: )

Jackie Burns

Q: Was the Tears from Heaven album your first time working with Frank Wildhorn? What was your experience like?

A: “That was the first recording I ever did with Frank, and it was truly magical. I got to sing on a track with Linda Eder and Micheal Lanning who are massive singing superstars! It’s something I am very proud to have been apart of.”

Q: How will this concert differ from the concert you did at BYU “Frank Wildhorn with Friends” in 2013?

A: “This concert is jam packed with hits as well as featuring songs from his newest upcoming musical. And this time we have a full orchestra as well as a huge chorus from BYU so it’s going to be epic sounding!”

Q: What was the first song or musical by Wildhorn that you heard? What did you think of it?

A: “”Someone like you.’ It took my breath away. It is a dream come true to now get to sit at the piano and sing with a man I am so in awe of!”

Q: What sets Wildhorn apart from other Broadway composers?

A: “There’s not many composers who can take a song from a musical and put it on the radio. His songs can stand along outside of it out of context and it still works whereas a lot of shows it doesn’t work like that.”

Q: Why did you decide to purse a career in musical theater?

A: “I always wanted to be on stage since as far back as I can remember. There was nothing else I ever wanted to do!”

Q: Looking back, what do you wish you would have known when you were a college student studying theater?

A: “Oh, that’s a tough question. I think just to be present in class everyday and realize you can learn so much from watching your fellow actors.”

Natalie Bothwell
Adrienne Warren debuted on Broadway in Bring It On. She played Lorretta in Dreamgirls on tour. (Photo: Natalie Bothwell)

Adrienne Warren

Q: You were here in 2013 for Frank Wildhorn and Friends. What’s it been like coming back?

A: “I was so excited when we were given the opportunity to come back and I said ‘of course’ i had such great time last time. The show we had so fun and everyone was so lovely, which makes it an easy yes.”

Q: You graduated in 2009. Coming here in 2013, was it weird or reminiscent coming back onto a college campus?

A: “Yeah. Definitely. I actually met Frank when I was at a masterclass in high school so that’s how our musical relationship began when I was 16. So yeah it did. It took me back. Frank is like the uncle that I never had, but now I do have.”

Q: What do you think sets Wildhorn a part from other composers?

A: “In my opinion, you can really feel Frank’s love of music in his work. When I sing his songs, I really do feel like I’m singing from my heart, no matter what tune. That’s why I fell in love with it. You can also feel the different influences that Frank has. He’s so influenced by jazz and R&B and by pop music and so many other influences that it’s very different for Broadway, but he’s able to compile it together into beautiful songs that are so heartwarming it makes you feel good to sing. Like it’s a feel good song when I sing one of Frank’s songs. I’ve always loved it.”

Q: When did you first hear his music?

A: “I got Jekyll and Hyde on DVD in middle school and it was the first time I had heard and then I began listening to Linda Eder all the time. That led me to listen to Frank’s musicals. I basically learned every role he wrote for a female.”

Q: Have you performed in any of his musicals.

A: “No, I haven’t actually.”

Q: If you could pick, which role or musical would you want to do?

A: “It would probably be Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde.”

Q: Why did you decide to purse career in acting?

A: “Girl, I stopped growing. I was playing basketball and I stopped growing. That’s really what happen. No, I was an athlete before I started doing theater full time. I realized there was no chance of me succeeding as a basketball player and I sang and I danced and I always loved it and then I went to performing High School. That’s when I started thinking seriously about doing it as a career.”

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