An Interview with Upcoming Writer and Composer Joseph Purdue

Darren Wildeman

Joseph Prudue is a writer and composer for two musicals. One of which has been out for awhile now, Unfolding Tales, and another one in production which is Legends of Arahma. For the blog I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph and getting some more information about both of these shows and the writing process. His first show, Unfolding Tales, has a cast recording available wherever you get your cast recordings and I strongly recommend giving it a listen. It was quite interesting to get a glimpse at the creative process of these two shows and to hopefully be able to follow their journey from still being written and smaller scale productions to full blown produced musicals. I wish Joseph the best of luck with both of these shows and I hope you enjoy getting a look at these musicals and the process for Joe.

Darren Wildeman: Your first musical Unfolding Tales, based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, has been out for a few years now and it even has a cast recording available on Spotify and other platforms. What has the reception been so far from the people who have seen it?

Joseph Prudue: The reception of the show has been incredible and I'm very honoured to receive so many compliments each month about Unfolding Tales. The thing that surprises me the most is the emotional connection it has with an audience. You can feel it in the room when we perform, there's something gripping about certain songs and certain characters the audience gets attached to.


 DW: As stated previously this musical is based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, what inspired you to write a musical about him and why Tolkien specifically? There are many other authors and other stories that could be told in a musical so what stood out to you about him?

JP: Well first of all I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. I think the size of the world he created, the history of it all, the different languages and cultures he created, it's truly remarkable and possibly unequalled in terms of creation. Some of the languages he created were as complete as any we use in day to day life. He was an such an intelligent and inspiring man.
So when I decided I wanted to write a musical, my first thought was 'what am I truly passionate about?' I've always loved The Lord Of Things, but obviously that musical had already been created, so I decide to look into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and found a very emotional, powerful story, about friendship and courage. The definitive moment for me happened when I was reading the biography by Humphrey Carpenter and found the letter G.B. Smith wrote Tolkien before he died. The whole letter is beautiful, but the line that captured me was, 'may you say the things I have tried to say, long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.' From that moment, I knew I wanted to write about this story.

 DW: When you are doing a biographical musical on a person, how do you decide what aspects of it to cover? He wrote other works as well as LOTR, was good friends with CS Lewis and other authors, fought in both wars, was very involved politically, had a wife and 4 kids among many other things. In such a full life how do you decide what goes into a musical?

JP: That's a good question and one which I still think about, as I'm not sure I've created the final version yet. For me, you have to look at the pivotal and most emotional moments in Tolkien's life. In school he formed a group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, the T.C.B.S. They had great ambition and shared dreams of how they can change the world. Tragically, they were torn apart by The Great War – two of Tolkien's best friends were killed. So, the journey of this friendship became the heart of the show. Also because The Lord Of The Rings is full of similar friendships and the emphasis on courage against overwhelming odds resembled the bravery of those who fought in the war.
So much of Tolkien's story could've been in the musical, but you can't have too many characters in a two hour show or there's not enough time to really know them or emotionally connect to their story. However, I know Tolkien did have a very strong relationship with his mother and so I wanted to include her. I felt a resemblance between her and Galadriel, with the love of nature and so on. I feel the device worked very well and captured the audience. She's one of my favourite characters.

 DW: It’s fairly well noted that Tolkien was a very devout Christian. He also had many talks with his friends including CS Lewis about his Christianity. When writing a biographical musical, how much do you let that person’s personal beliefs influence the material of the show?

JP: I decided early on not to go into much detail there, because like answered in the previous questions, there's just not enough time to cover everything in one story. However, you get a sense of it in terms of his morals, the things he believed in and the relationship with Father Francis, who became the guardian of Tolkien and his younger brother after their mother died. Tolkien loved the stories of Christ and took inspiration from them. But the scenes with C.S. Lewis, I steered more to their discussions about creative writing, myths and legends.

DW: Where and when can audiences expect to see Unfolding Tales in the upcoming months and years? And what are your hopes for it and the next steps going forward?

JP: I'm not too sure at this stage. Of course, I would love to scale up and find a producer who is passionate about the show and has a vision to take it further. But I think the structure may need further edits before that's possible. I'm hoping to do a performance in 2019. No details yet though.

DW: Your next project is an original fantasy musical Legends of Arahma which you have been working on for just over a year. Where are you at in this musical and what are your hopes and prospects going forward for productions?

JP: At the moment I'm finishing the concept album. All the singers have been recorded and now I'm mixing the songs, with hope to release the album within the next few months. Then we'll be looking to do either a concert or rehearsed reading of the show. We're very excited to see what the response is from the concept album. I'm very proud of what we've created. I do believe it's something new and I can't compare the music to any other theatrical piece. Musically, it's more film score inspired, as I have a huge passion for that genre of music. I actually think Legends of Arahma would make a wonderful movie as well as a musical.

 DW: How many people do you have working on Legends of Arahma and do you prefer to work on a musical independently or with a team of people? What are the advantages and challenges to both situations?

JP: At the moment it's pretty much me and the book writer, Dries Janssens. We've had some good help from Nathan Deane with graphics, but apart from that it's only us and of course our fantastic cast. Stephen Schwartz did have a great impact on the show in terms of lyrics. He met with me and taught me a lot about the craft, how the lyrics should match the rise and fall of the melody, where to draw inspiration from, how to make a lyric sound natural and many other things. After that evening, we virtually re-wrote the entire show lyrically.

DW: Legends of Arhama is totally original. What are the challenges of writing something totally original as opposed to having someone’s life or a source to work with?

JP: Great question, and to be honest it's a blessing and a curse. First of all, writing a completely original story is risky, because producers are unsure whether the show will have audience or not. Even if they love the music and the story, can they convince investors to come onboard and also sell it to the public?
However, the rewards of writing an original story and seeing it grow are very, very exciting. We all know the feeling of seeing something new and magical, which lights our imagination, something that we can't wait to tell our friends about. It's the reason any of us became artists, because we wanted to create something new – that's what an artist is. Someone who follows formulas to make money is not an artist in my eyes.
We need original stories right now, I can't stress that enough. We're seeing so many stories in both film and theatre being remade over and over and I find it very sad. It's actually stopping new writers from getting inspired and it takes excitement out of the world. We need original work to inspire the next generation of writers.

I hope audiences can listen to Legends of Arahma and get inspired – make them wanted to create something of their own, the way my idols did for me. Ultimately, that's the dream.

DW: Without giving away more than you’re comfortable what is the premise of Legends of Arahma?

JP: The thing I like about it, is there's more than one story thread. It's partly about a man called Copernicus who finds out who he truly is in another world. He becomes more than he ever thought he could be and saves a beautiful green world from the destruction of the enemy. The importance of protecting nature is a big part of the show and a message we wish to share, as well union between the different people of the world.
However, it was the conflicted villain, Zoran, who drew me to the piece. I had a great image of her when reading the book and I thought it was the perfect character for me to bring to life musically. Zoran has depth and has been sung beautifully by Jodie Steele on our concept album.

DW: When you write music whether it’s Unfolding Tales or Legends of Arahma where do you draw your inspiration from both musically or in storytelling? Which composers, authors or other writers have left an influence on you?

JP: For me, inspiration can come from many different places. Usually, something in the story has an impact on me and instantly I get images of what the scene should look and feel like. I then try and capture that feel, or emotion with music. But sometimes an interesting character is enough to draw inspiration from. Sometimes it's the description of the landscape which paints a picture and then I know what instruments will capture that.
As for my influences, everyone who's worked with me knows I'm a massive Alan Menken fan. His music is infectious, it's dramatic, emotional, full of life and incredibly memorable, it lives inside the audience long after they've heard it. I noticed early on that it was his melodies above anything that made him superior to many writers and I've always kept that in mind. So when I write song, I always start with the melody. If I can make you feel something and paint a beautiful picture with just chords and melody, no words, then I know I'm on the path. Then when we add the words, considering they're good and match the music, the song will bloom.
I'm also a huge admirer of Stephen Schwartz, for his work on Prince of Egypt, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course, Wicked. I love the work of Stiles and Drewe. I also take influence from the great film composers, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard and many more. Once again, their music does magical things without words and further demonstrates the importance of the melody. Then there's J.R.R. Tolkien, who inspires me as an overall creator and perfectionist.

 DW: Joseph, I want to thank you for your time with me and agreeing to do an interview with us for the ATB blog. Is there anything else people should know about either musical or yourself as a writer and composer?

JP: Thank you. Yes, the Legends of Arahma concept album will be available as a free download within the next few months, so please take a listen and share it with your friends. Also, to any other creative artists out there, if you have an idea, put in the work and bring it to life. No dream career is easy to achieve, but if you're keen to learn, you're prepared to work hard, then great things will come of it. Be sure to keep going – you'll only get better and better.