Monday, April 27, 2015

Top 5 Frank Wildhorn Disappointments

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about music theory and I'm sure it shows in this post. Please correct me and educate me if you see me using any wrong terms!

Over the past couple of years, I've turned into a fan of composer Frank Wildhorn.

The weird things is that I do not think any of Wildhorn's musicals are especially brilliant. Quite the contrary, actually. I dislike his dull love triangles and his flat female characters, and I'm not too fond of his tendency to reuse his own melodies either. And yet, despite that, his shows make me happy. A true love-hate relationship here.

But about that melody reusing. Ever since first listening to Jekyll & Hyde and thinking that hey, doesn't this sound like the Dracula song I heard a while ago... Spotting melodies familiar from other Wildhorn musicals has become something of a hobby for me. I feel a pang of both victory and disappointment every time I notice a new instance of repeated melodies. Sure, every other musical composer recycles material. But good ol' Wildhorn has some especially blatant reused moments.

Here is my top five list of the most disappointing times Frank Wildhorn has reused his own tunes in his musicals... so far. 

#5: Someone Like You (1987) / Someone Like You (1990 onwards) – Jekyll & Hyde

Listening to Jekyll & Hyde the musical, it's easy to think of Someone Like You as the defining song for Lucy. It's a soaring song that highlights not only her love towards Jekyll but also her personality and her situation in life – a song about a hopeless dreamer living a nightmare and finally seeing a way out. My heart would take wing and I'd feel so alive / If someone like you loved me...

Or so I used to think, before I found out that on the 1987 concept album, Someone Like You used to be Emma and Jekyll's duet. With almost exactly the same lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, too. This is a different sort of recycling than the rest of this list, but disappointing in its own right anyway. It just doesn't feel right. This was supposed to be Lucy's moment, not something written with Emma and Jekyll in mind!

Oh well. It's a pretty song in any case, got to give it that.

#4: Life After Life (Dracula) / Finish What You Started (Rudolf)

In and of itself, Rudolf the musical is a huge disappointment. Most Wildhorn shows are bad in a silly, enjoyable way – but this one about Austria-Hungary's ill-fated crown prince is just terrible. Laura puts it well in her review: In short, the musical sucks. It has some nice songs and moments, but overall it sucks. From twisting history to romanticising suicide, it's awful.

To have a tune lifted from a better Wildhorn show slapped in the middle of all that sludge...

Life After Life is Dracula the musical's first act finale. It's a nice tune about Dracula wanting to suck the whole London dry. In Rudolf, a part of Life After Life makes a cameo in a scene where Crown Prince Rudolf discusses revolutionary affairs with his countrymen.

The whole melody is not lifted from one musical to another. The similarities are actually almost subtle enough for these to sounds like two completely different songs – almost. This is something Wildhorn does often, lifting bits and pieces from his previous shows and disguising them as new tunes. Shame he doesn't quite manage to fool the listener here.

#3: His Work and Nothing More (Jekyll & Hyde) / Nosferatu (Dracula)

Jekyll & Hyde the musical and Dracula the musical take place in the same universe and no one can convince me otherwise. Think about it! Gothic tales, both set in 19th century London, Mr. Hyde and Count Dracula terrorising the city together... They're such a good match they even share parts of the same melody.

This is another pair that is not quite the same but still too close for comfort. His Work and Nothing More is a quartet where Jekyll's loved ones worry about him. Nosferatu is a cautionary solo about the dangers of the undead ones. Try singing Utterson's it's like when love dies line on top of Professor van Helsing, the word dies falling on the same beat as the last syllable of the word "Nosferatu" – you'll notice the similarity right away.

This is the first Wildhorn repeat I ever noticed. Figuring out the connection in between these two was such a victorious moment the triumph almost washed away the disappointment, actually.

#2:  Only Love (The Scarlet Pimpernel) / Only Love (Rudolf)

Now we're just being lazy. This is the exact same song popping up in two different musicals.

Only Love is not included in the most recent script edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel anymore. It is, however, recorded on the musical's original Broadway cast recording. I haven't seen it in context, but I assume it's the leading lady Marguerite pining after her estranged husband Percy... So no wonder it was removed, I think there are three other songs like that in the show already. In Rudolf, it's Baroness Mary Vetsera serenading her titular royal lover.

This combo gets extra disappointment points for recycling not only the song's title, but also Nan Knighton's exact same lyrics from The Scarlet Pimpernel's OBC to Rudolf's English demo. The lyrics are so incredibly vague they fit two completely different musicals.

Though, to be honest... Wildhorn's love stories are all practically interchangeable anyway, so maybe it's not too surprising. Don't turn away, it's only love – there's a motto that suits all his romances. Wonder if this will be recycled to a third show sometimes soon.

#1: Falcon in the Dive (The Scarlet Pimpernel) / Hell to Your Doorstep (The Count of Monte Cristo)

Falcon in the Dive is a memorable showtune. The villain Chauvelin is by far the most fascinating character in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and here, he gets to rage about the titular Pimpernel to his heart's content. No wonder Falcon pops up in musical concerts all over – be it Norm Lewis or a Finnish theatre student singing the song.

So why on earth would you reuse a melody as memorable as this one as the showstopper in another show? Falcon returns as a part of The Count of Monte Cristo's first act finale Hell to Your Doorstep, where the titular character rages about his hatred towards the world in general.

Granted, it's again not the whole tune – rather, it's just the fast-paced bit at the very beginning of the songs. But even so, it's recognisable enough to feel like a slap in the face. Start singing either song's lyrics on top of the other right from the start to test it for yourself. The word "moment" even falls on the exact same place in both songs! Aaargh!

Since Falcon is easily my number one Wildhorn song, this is especially disappointing for me and therefore deserves the number one spot.

To end on a loving note, however... If you ever happen to meet him, say hello to Mr. Wildhorn for me and let him know that despite all this, I truely enjoy his musicals. The musical world would be a lot duller place without him.

Repeated tunes and all.

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