As someone who is a massive fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and musical theatre, you can imagine how excited I felt when I saw that there was a musical production all about the Professor! The musical, TOLKIEN, was conceived over two years ago by composer/songwriter, Joseph Purdue. I had the opportunity to talk to Joe about the musical, how it was created, what it’s about, and what his hopes for the show are.
Joe attended film school where he studied orchestral composition. His music idols consist of Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast), James Horner (Titanic), and Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods). Like all of those composers have done, Joe wanted to tell a story through music and it was only a matter of finding a topic.
Being a fan of both the books and film adaptations, Tolkien has been a big influence in Joe’s life. He wondered if Tolkien’s story was worth telling and he soon discovered that it was. He used two books for the foundation of his show, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter and Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. With this material, he learned about who Tolkien was before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The musical tells the story of Tolkien’s early life, when he attended King Edward’s School and Oxford, the formation of T.C.B.S. (Tea Club, Barrovian Society), his friendship with the Inklings, and his journey to becoming the creator of Middle-earth. It also touches on the subject of World War I and how it affected the lives of Tolkien and his friends. One of the messages of TOLKIEN is that if you’re passionate about something, keep going back at it even if it might take you years to reach it. Another big theme of the show is the battle between courage and fear. I’ve only seen snippets of the show (all of which can be found here), but I can already get a sense of the themes and messages. I can only imagine how great the full production is!
Working alongside a group of passionate and extremely talented people, Joe put on two concert performances of TOLKIEN earlier this year in April–both of which were sold out!
“The response it has got since the performances has been incredible – friends of mine who prefer football over theatre came to support it and enjoyed it. Not everyone knows about Tolkien’s life and I wanted to steer away from doing what most do and create a musical based on a film or something already written.” — Joe (x)
Joe discussed how he hopes TOLKIEN will bring in audiences who may not be familiar with theatre and leave with a new appreciation for it. The ultimate goal is to have the show perform on West End with a full orchestra (think Les Misérables). Just from hearing the music from this three minute video, it’s easy to imagine how epic the music would sound live.
There’s going to be a rehearsed reading of the show in November and will feature the same cast as the one from the April concerts. It was very obvious to me how proud Joe is of everyone involved in the musical, he talked about how the actor playing Tolkien is an amazing talent whose voice is just constantly going throughout the show. There is also an emotional duet between Tolkien and his mother, Mabel. Joe discussed that there is a relationship between her and Galadriel in the show, as well as death and the Grey Havens. People already familiar with Tolkien’s works will be able to pick up on the references Joe included in the songs.
There’s currently a Kickstarter running to help raise money for the production. One of the rewards for donating is a download of one of the songs, “The Dawn Comes” (which I am a big fan of). Joe was kind enough to send me the track and I admit that after I listened to it for the first time, I went ahead and kept in on repeat; I’ve even caught myself humming the melody from time to time. It’s upsetting that I’m miles away from London because I would love to see and hear this musical! I’ll just continue to listen to “The Dawn Comes” in the meantime.