F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.”
Fortunately, there are Second Quests.
Over 25 years after the blockbuster Nintendo video game series first hit the scene bearing its namesake in honor of Fitzgerald’s wife, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses returns for an encore run in some of North America’s most distinguished theater halls (including, for the first time, a pair of dates in Mexico). Presented by Jason Michael Paul Productions, the show—currently on tour through December—presents the very best of Zelda’s lush symphonic scores paired with a live orchestra and visual effects.
In this JQ exclusive, producer and lead creative Jeron Moore sounds off what’s new about the show, the experience of working with Nintendo to bring the ultimate live experience to fans, and the evolution of Link throughout the saga’s rich history.
What was the inspiration for this installment of the show?
Well, if you’re a Zelda aficionado, you’ll recognize the term “Second Quest” from the New Game+ mode from the original 1986 entry, The Legend of Zelda, on the NES. It’s a mode you’d unlock once you defeated the game, and what it did was reorganize the game a little bit, made the dungeons a bit harder, made the items a bit more challenging to find, made the bosses a bit more difficult to defeat. We’ve taken the idea of visiting familiar places while encountering new challenges and applied that to the Second Quest, which has been revamped to include a half hour of new material while keeping all of the classics that make The Legend of Zelda what it is.
What surprises can we expect from the Second Quest?
They wouldn’t be surprises if I told you! But I will hint that we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of a particular, very special handheld title. We’ve also finally included some music from one of the most recent Zelda games, which we steered cleared of with the first season program. And at the request of Mr. Eiji Aonuma, you can also expect to see a fully revamped Wind Waker segment, featuring gorgeous visuals from the game’s recent HD release on the Wii U. The Wind Waker has never looked better.
How did the idea for format of the show come about? The large screen, the orchestra?
It’s simple. There’s just nothing classier than a large orchestra tuning up, then performing powerhouse symphonic interpretations of your favorite music, no matter the genre. For The Legend of Zelda, we wanted Symphony of the Goddesses to be as accessible as possible. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a room and feeling left behind because you didn’t walk in with a prerequisite knowledge of the material. The music undoubtedly stands on its own, but incorporating visuals opens it up and informs the entire audience of context, not just those who’ve played the games before. Of course, being the fans that we are, we’ve carefully edited the footage into an entertaining narrative that, we feel, makes sense. With that, we’re able to hit on many of the important moments universally adored by fans, so yeah—lots of inside jokes, but we try not to let anything fall flat.
Would someone not entirely familiar with the Zelda saga enjoy the show?
When I first sat down with Chad Seiter, [the show’s] music director and arranger, to draw up the blueprints and commit our ideas to paper, it was our number one priority to structure and organize the show in such a way that it flowed naturally and narratively. In my experience with other video game music-themed concerts, that seemed to be the thing missing most—a story that the audience could latch on to. It helps that the music is fantastic, but without context, you limit the scope of who you are able to ultimately reach. So to answer your question, yes—we’ve seen all kinds of people walk through the doors, many of which have never played a Zelda game in their life, and the one thing we continually hear is: “now I have to go play one.”
What was the creative process that allowed your personal love for the game to be transformed into a full blown production?
Chad Seiter and I are not only massive video game fans, but our love for music originated with our love for also film and television. We’re those guys who grew up listening to the likes of film composers Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek), John Williams (Star Wars), and Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven), as well as contemporaries David Arnold (Independence Day) and Hans Zimmer (Man of Steel). We both love that cinematic sound. I remember growing up jamming to the music my Nintendo was pumping out, but I would always reinterpret it in my imagination, wishing and imagining what it would sound like if it were performed by an orchestra. Between Chad’s training in composing and orchestrating for film and television, and my education in film and television directing/producing, transforming this into a full blown production was just a natural thing, and let’s be honest, it was a no brainer with Koji Kondo‘s timeless melodies in the limelight.
Is there a specific age group or demographic that the show is more catered to?
We cater to all ages. You’ve got to remember that Zelda is 27 years old now. We’re seeing fans spanning three generations buy tickets to the show. The atmosphere is classy but fun. We actively encourage cosplay, but also appreciate fans who want to dress up formally for “a night at the symphony.” But at the end of the day, there’s no dress code, and there’s no specific demographic. The material is accessible to all ages, and that in our experience is the recipe for an exceptionally well-rounded, enthusiastic audience.
Do you feel that the New York audience responds differently, and is more demanding?
I feel like NYC is as excited to be there as we are! New York City is an expensive market in which to present a show, sometimes prohibitively so. That’s why you don’t see a lot of these type of shows come to town, as the overhead exceeds what the production can handle. Fortunately, we have a wonderful partnership with the good folks at MSG Entertainment and Madison Square Garden, so fans can send their love that direction for making our presence in NYC possible. Not to name names, but two gentleman in particular, promoters Randy Fibiger and Ed Kasses, are definitely Hyrule-class heroes!
What in your opinion is the formula to keep the public coming back and engaged?
I feel like the formula is to keep the content fresh and exciting, hence Second Quest. We haven’t excised the entire program, which would mean dismissing all of the franchise’s most beloved themes, but we have gone back and exchanged some of the more modular content with selections we ultimately couldn’t do (or weren’t ready to do) the first time.
What kind of support or barriers have you had to deal with from the creative side for the current show?
Honestly, no real barriers. We’re very grateful in that regard. Nintendo has been absolutely wonderful to work with! Producer Eiji Aonuma, sound director Koji Kondo, as well as all of the staff between Nintendo corporate in Japan and Nintendo of America, have been tremendously supportive and eager to facilitate. Of course, without their involvement and commitment to quality none of this would have been possible.
It’s funny, we will occasionally receive criticisms from fans that we didn’t do enough to change the material. But, I think that’s why the show succeeds. The music in the game is perfect as is. Chad and I are purists. It’s Kondo-san’s original work that we as fans fell in love with when we sat down as children to play these games. Back when we were drawing up the blueprints for [our show], we did so with a strict protocol to remain as faithful to the source material as possible. We wanted Koji Kondo to see the end result and think to himself, “yeah, this is how I intended it.” To us, his intent was crystal clear from the very beginning, and that served as a kind of guiding light along the way. I think that kind of serendipity is what has helped make the process with Nintendo, and the gentlemen who actually created this stuff, such a smooth and natural experience.
Is it necessary for Link to mature as a character in order to keep up with the gamer community as it continues to mature?
I feel like Link as a character matures with each title, but it’s good to keep in mind that Nintendo drops us into different spots on the timeline with every new game, complete with a new aesthetic, which I feel informs the developers’ approach to writing that particular story and iteration of Link. Take Link from A Link Between Worlds, who’s been positioned as a direct descendant of the Link we met in A Link to the Past. I expect to see some advancements in how his character is presented, but we’re going back to that world, that iteration of Hyrule, which comes with its own brand of humor, its own personality, its own history—we’ve been there before, so we know what to expect. Link from Twilight Princess was certainly more grown up, and the game itself saw him grow into the green tunic and mature along the way. Same goes with The Wind Waker; you definitely start out as a kid in spirit, but he’s experienced quite a bit by the time the tale is finished. Aonuma-san seems interested in continuing to advance Link’s story, as well as shake our perceptions on how we think it should be told, so I’m looking forward to whatever’s next. The exciting part is not knowing quite what to expect!
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tours North America through Dec. 14. For more information, visit www.zelda-symphony.com.
For JQ magazine’s December 2012 review of Symphony of the Goddesses in New York, click here.