If “Hamilton,” “SIX: The Musical” and “Hadestown” have taught us anything, it’s that writing musicals about history and mythology works. There may be no rhyme or reason as to why, but the success of the concept album “EPIC: The Musical” provides further proof of this theory’s validity.
“EPIC” tells the story of “The Odyssey,” recounting Odysseus’s journey from Troy back home to Ithaca. Monsters, gods and other mythical figures prevent him from returning home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. The story is by no means new — kids all over the world have probably read (or pretended to read) “The Odyssey” for school — but the medium is modern, offering a fresh take on a story which few people know the details of. In a lot of ways, by choosing to tell Odysseus’s story in this verbal way, “EPIC” achieves a fascinating, modern take on a return to the original oral storytelling format of “The Odyssey.” The concept album intends to cover the whole story in 40 songs, and the songs are being released in “sagas.” The first — The Troy Saga — was released on Christmas in 2022 to outstanding success. Its follow-up The Cyclops Saga was released on Jan. 27.
The Troy Saga offers a tantalizing taste of what is still to come in future sagas and songs. Consisting of five tracks, it opens the story by introducing us to a cast of characters including Odysseus, second-in-command Eurylochus, friend Polites, god of thunder Zeus and goddess of wisdom Athena. The opening track “The Horse and the Infant” is a true-to-form Broadway opener; it takes the time to set the scene, introduce characters and get us interested in Odysseus as a hero and protagonist. Closing the saga, “Warrior of the Mind” (which featured at number nine on Spotify’s Top Songs Debut USA Chart and has become a viral sensation on TikTok) features Athena and Odysseus meeting and leaves the listeners begging for more.
Creator Jorge Rivera-Herrans has been working on the musical for over three years. In the “EPIC” Discord, Rivera-Herrans wrote in a Q&A that, “I knew I wanted to write a musical that was large in scale, had many characters, fight scenes, monsters, spells, ships, and larger than life themes. I kept mentioning that around and several people brought up The Odyssey and The Iliad. At first I was even skeptical, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a world I could turn into a musical playground.” He absolutely succeeded in that.
In many ways, this concept album is a product of the Internet, as Rivera-Herrans perfected and honed melodies, storylines and lyrics while fans followed his progress on Discord and later TikTok. Something similar happened with “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” as creators Barlow & Bear wrote their songs on live streams for fans to watch and follow along. But “EPIC” is different in the sheer amount and depth of the process, which Rivera-Herrans reveals. His transparency is unique and allows fans a peek behind a curtain that usually remains closed.
With Rivera-Herrans’s background as a musical theater student from Notre Dame, it is no surprise how much thought goes into every single musical decision that he makes for “EPIC.” What is more surprising, though, is how much of these musical decisions and thoughts he reveals to his listeners and fans. In some videos, he explains the specific instruments he chose to associate with specific characters; for instance, lead protagonist Odysseus’s primary instrument is the guitar, in various forms depending on the mood and circumstances of the song and plot.
On Discord, Rivera-Herrans wrote regarding the support he received from TikTok.
“I remember posting my first video on TikTok and I got some comments saying they liked it, and some other … not so nice comments … It’s scary to put your work out there for the first time like that, for the whole world to see,” Rivera-Herrans wrote. “I barely slept that night, or the next night, or really that whole week. It wasn’t till weeks later that things kinda smoothed out. I’m so thankful for this community, they might not realize it but I mean it when I say I consider them my friends.”
That’s the amazing thing about creating this musical with the social media community as your witnesses — the community helps out and becomes a part of the whole process.
“EPIC” solidifies itself as a social media musical even more because of how Rivera-Herrans cast the concept album. While he himself provides the voice for Odysseus and his college friend (and vocal powerhouse), Teagan Earley, voices Athena, many other characters were selected straight from TikTok. In fact, the casting call was open to anyone and everyone. Interested singers (or just fans having fun) were able to audition by duetting his TikToks and singing select lines for the relevant characters. This is not only an incredibly unique and modern way of finding talent, but it also breaks many barriers for singers who might otherwise have no way of being discovered.
By lowering these barriers to entry, Rivera-Herrans is doing a service to the music industry. In many ways, TikTok has already begun to do so by allowing users to grow their fanbases, go viral and be discovered, but Rivera-Herrans takes this opportunity to the next level by choosing singers for his musical straight from the vast world of accessible talent that TikTok offers.
Needless to say, he’s doing something new and unique with “EPIC,” and I’m excited to see what happens next. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the releases of all the upcoming sagas, but in the meantime, I’ll just keep listening to the songs we have so far. And maybe brush up on my Greek mythology.
Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at email@example.com.