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August 29, 2014

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It’s ‘Frank & Friends’ today, but Frank Wildhorn wants ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ to play Smith Center

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TonyAwards.com

Frank Wildhorn appears at 2012 Tony Nominees Press reception. His “Bonny & Clyde” was among the nominees.

Frank Wildhorn loves the Cabaret Jazz room at Smith Center.

He’s pretty fond of the Big Room, Reynolds Hall, too.

The writer of “Jekyll & Hyde,” the original version and the just-opened Broadway revival, Wildhorn is back at Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts for his “Frank Wildhorn & Friends” show. The friends once more are Clint Holmes and Jane Monheit. Show times are 8:30 tonight and 6 p.m. Sunday (for ticket info, hit The Smith Center website).

Wildhorn and Monheit appeared with Holmes at Cabaret Jazz back in November. The show enjoyed particularly strong word-of-mouth reports, deservedly so, and that is a quality shared by “Jekyll & Hyde.” The production, which formally premiered April 18 and is co-written by Leslie Bricusse, is not universally loved by reviewers. Yet those who don’t happen to critique Broadway shows for a living like it a lot.

“These days, the bloggers and those who live in that world have a lot of influence,” Wildhorn said during a recent phone interview. “And what we’re hearing from them is: so far, so good.” The updated production stars “American Idol” runner-up and onetime “Rock of Ages” star Constantine Maroulis, and if form holds, the musical will develop the same flavor of cult following as the original, which played more than 1,500 shows on Broadway and toured the country.

How does Las Vegas figure into Wildhorn’s future and long-term plans for the show? Wildhorn has developed a strong relationship with Smith Center President Myron Martin (and also is a close friend of Holmes), and what Wildhorn refers to as “Phase 2” of the production could open at Reynolds Hall in 2014.

“I would love for it to be in The Smith Center. I have entered a real relationship with Myron there, and with the talent pool (in Las Vegas) it would be an obvious place to start shows,” Wildhorn says. “We have done it in South Dakota, La Jolla (Calif.), Florida, Houston. … We would love to have it play in The Smith Center.” (That’s if the show can find an open slot in the heavily populated Reynolds Hall schedule; the big room is becoming a popular haunt for all Broadway tours.)

Wildhorn also has written the scores for such Broadway shows as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War” and also penned the No. 1 hit “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” by Whitney Houston. He has seen all variety of live venues and is effusive in his praise for Cabaret Jazz.

“No question, it is world class,” he said. “It’s a very unusual room in that most rooms that do jazz have very low ceilings, but you have a high ceiling (at Cabaret Jazz), and it’s acoustically very friendly. You feel like you are doing a concert there as opposed to being in a club.”

The show set for this weekend features individual numbers by each artist, as well as duets, and is being recorded for a possible DVD. Monheit is a highly regarded jazz singer with a vocal range suited to sing any style. Her latest release, “The Heart of the Matter,” is noted for its eclectic mix of material, including Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” and a medley of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

Holmes is appearing outside his usual monthly showcases at Cab Jazz. Wildhorn says Holmes is one of the greatest, and underappreciated, vocalists anywhere.

“He has a timeless voice, and I hope he can make records this year. These records become calling cards for the rest of your career, and he needs to start doing that, and I’m trying my best to make that happen for him,” Wildhorn said. “He is one of the great vocalists in the world. I truly believe that. He is very hip rhythmically and a great actor and interpreter of lyrics who can reinterpret them very effectively.”

Wildhorn says working such intimate shows is like “therapy.”

“It takes me back to my roots,” he said. “I am always a student in everything I do. That’s how I feel with this project with Clint and Jane, where I used to be just a piano player in a band, and now I get to appear with my friends and tell cool stories.

“As long as we’re invited, we get to keep reinventing.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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