When that Pub at the Public Theatre puts out its "pub"-licity that Broadway music will be on hand, the Broadway fans come downtown. This was the case on Monday, as the songs of Frank Wildhorn were celebrated by Rob Evan, Michael Lanning, Tracy Miller, Kate Shindle and the composer himself.
Opening on the evening of Labor Day, this evening of the music of Frank Wildhorn will be repeated on the next two Mondays, September 12th and 19th. The opening night set list plucked songs from the composer's numerous projects past, present and future. Music stands with sheet music were present, and singers' eyes were sometimes lingering there, taking away from the communication with the audience, but adding to the informality. Wildhorn set the mood for a casual evening, strolling out in a red baseball cap, shirt not tucked in and, like three of his four talented vocalists, he wore blue jeans. This atmosphere continued throughout the evening with relaxed, chatty introductions to songs, some of which were contrastingly intense and ultra-dramatic. Though he seemed in charge and at home, Wildhorn said a few times that he hadn't played in a club setting in "almost thirty years" and that it felt strange. His nervousness didn't show. He also appeared to be very happy and appreciative of the singers' talents, as was the audience, which included some colleagues and fanatic fans.
Frank Wildhorn is one of those composers whose work often brings strong reactions. He has been attracted to melodramatic, "big" stories and has provided big musical set pieces with bombastic, emotional turns for belting. He has devoted fans who come to shows over and over, and others who find his music overblown, over-the-top or overrated. This concert could sway some who are on the fence, and hearing the songs with just piano accompaniment downsizes them, as does the confines of a nightclub.
"Explosive" is the operative word in much of the man's work, and the singers were raring for ignition. One of the most explosive, and certainly the most exposed and recorded, is "This Is The Moment," and Rob Evan's presentation of the song received the most explosive and prolonged applause of the evening. Rob has performed the Jekyll & Hyde powerhouse piece many times, having had a long run in the show. That musical's female duet, "In His Eyes," is another blaster, and the singers du jour were game; Kate Shindle (lower-voiced of the two) and Tracy Miller (currently in Hairspray) showed versatility throughout the evening. Wildhorn announced that a concert version of Jekyll & Hyde was going on a national tour and would feature a large symphony orchestra in some cities. He sounded very excited about this as well as the fact that the score has now been recorded in nine different languages.
The Civil War is also getting a new life. It will be performed every summer at a new theatre in a city drenched in Civil War history, Gettysburg. The concert's fourth singer, Michael Lanning, appeared in the original production and performed a couple of its numbers especially well with a clear, exciting voice. (Wildhorn picked that voice, he said, from an automobile commercial jingle, having reviewed dozens of tapes.) Michael also played guitar and mandolin, each for one number, a nice change from just piano accompaniment. A new song has been added to the War score, and it was premiered in this concert: "If I Should Lose My Way," a duet for the characters Sarah and Sullivan who say goodbye as he goes off to war, not knowing they will see each other again. It's a tender song with plain rhymes, and Tracy and Michael gave a sincere rendition. Rob's heartfelt and heart-wrenching version of "Sarah," a song inspired by actual letters written by army men as they lay slowly dying, was dedicated to its originator, the late vocalist Carl Anderson.
Since most of the numbers were solos, and none were "throwaway" breezy ones, it would be hard to single out each singer's best spot. Kate Shindle made her mark as the solid singer she is with "Please Don't Make Me Love You," the only selection from the recent Dracula. Tracy was especially impressive in a no-holding-back performance of "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?", the Whitney Houston pop hit. "Big shoes to fill," noted Wildhorn, who told of his joy in writing for the pop diva's voice and how the song's financial windfall made everything else easier.
Wildhorn had nice things to say about lyricists Jack Murphy, Nan Knighton, Gregory Boyd and Leslie Bricusse. His first songs heard on Broadway were with Bricusse, added to the score of Victor, Victoria. He sang a bit of that musical's "Living In The Shadows" in a tentative voice, reportedly on a dare, before handing it over to Tracy.
Wildhorn devotees will have a good year with new shows coming up (including his Cyrano), a concert tour and the next two Mondays at Joe's Pub.
Frank Wildhorn and Friends