The man behind the Trinity College Musical

By Jemma Wilson

Third-year Residential College student Jem Herbert speaks about his journey of composing Mageia: a Musical Fable and its fruition as Trinity’s 2022 musical.

After years of work and collaboration, Jem Herbert is excited to present his composition of Mageia to its first audiences. This journey of Jem’s has taught him many lessons of the creative process–from the initial inspiration of Paul Gallico’s book, into the tedious process of rewrites, revisions, cuts and transitions, and to the unique experience of working on an original musical.

Jem Herbert is a third-year student at Trinity College and is studying a Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne. Music has always been a large part of Jem’s life, having to drive from Victoria’s high country to Melbourne as a boy for rehearsals with the Australian Boys’ Choir, along with weekly piano and cello lessons. He then spent his secondary school years at the Victorian College of Arts Secondary School.

Jem explains that his latest music venture has been half a decade in the making.

‘Since about 2017 I have been collaborating with Sandy Mackinnon, an author friend, on different musical projects.’

However, it was their happening across Paul Gallico’s book The Man Who Was Magic that ‘it immediately struck us as a story that could be dramatised’, Jem reflects.

‘There is even a dramatis personae (character list) inside the front cover, as if Gallico was begging someone to bring his book to the stage!’

From here, Jem and Sandy spent their school holidays at work on the project which began to take shape with a meticulous effort of rewrites, revisions, cuts and transformation. Jem says for a large-scale creative project like this, ‘you have to think as a sculptor. You begin with rough outlines, then continue to whittle and trim until every curve and detail is at its most defined.’

Jem identifies that the main challenge aspect of writing music for the theatre is ‘keeping the staging and other practical concerns’ in mind. He exemplifies these considerations in relation to character reactions: ‘if someone is singing a solo, what are the others doing? Character X will want to respond to what Character Y has just said, so how do I write their response into song?’

After all this hard work, Jem is presenting Mageia: a Musical Fable as Trinity College’s 2022 musical.

‘Without giving too much away’, he explains that Mageia is a ‘moral tale… about humanity and innocence in the face of greed. Adam, a young traveller, comes to learn about conjuring from the world’s best in the secret garden of Mageia, He befriends Ninian and Jane, two characters that are, in their own ways, rejected by this seemingly welcoming city. It is through these characters that we learn about Adam’s unique kind of magic and, above all, the power of friendship.’

Since the start of March, Mageia has been slowly brought to life by the residents of Trinity College. This has been a unique experience in comparison to past musicals for Jem and everyone else involved.

‘There are no cast recordings or filmed productions to go from, we have to rely much more on our imaginations.'

The next exciting step of this project is the involvement of the audience. Jem hopes that ‘this show will have a broad appeal. It does not pretend to be a trailblazer like Hamilton or West-Side Story (in its time). It tells a compelling story told in new and interesting ways at the time but its main purpose is to delight, rather than provoke.’

Jem describes the involvement of the audience in consideration to the words of Stephen Sondheim: 'Musicals are plays, but the last collaborator is your audience, so you’ve got to wait ‘til the last collaborator is in before you can complete the collaboration.'

Overall, Jem looks forward to seeing ‘the fruits of what has been a hard labour’ and having the final part, the audience, complete this project.

‘So, come and collaborate with us on May 11, 12, and 13 at Trinity College!’

By Jemma Wilson

Purchase tickets to Mageia: a Musical Fable

03 May 2022