Alumni’s podcast brings musical theater to Dungeons & Dragons
August 13, 2021
The debut of shows such as Netflix's Stranger Things, with its embrace of 1980s nostalgia, reignited interest in tabletop role-playing games, once a fixture of musty childhood basements and comic shops. Renewed interest in games like Dungeons & Dragons has spawned a wealth of new media, including books, TV shows and even a potential major motion picture. This summer, a group of UArts alumni added to this resurgent cultural phenomenon, introducing a new podcast that gives the game a musical treatment.
Mythic Thunderlute debuted in late July, following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Each episode, released on a biweekly schedule, follows a troupe of four characters with musical affinity as they improvise their way through a sprawling fantasy world envisioned by the show's gamemaster, Michael Doherty BFA '10 (Musical Theater).
The cast comprises Jake Blouch BFA '09 (Acting), Leigha Kato BFA '13 (Musical Theater), Steve Gudelunas BFA '09 (Acting) and Chicago-based actor and lifelong gamer Lillian Castillo. Alex Keiper BFA '07 (Musical Theater) coordinates each episode and serves as the show's production assistant.
Games like Dungeons & Dragons, often referred to in shorthand as D&D by its devoted fans, are perhaps best described as exercises in collaborative storytelling. Players take on the role of characters in an overarching story, while the gamemaster presents them with different scenarios for exploration, interaction and roleplay while functioning as a sort of referee. The game is a natural fit for a group of experienced actors, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted them to seek a new stage.
"Jake and Steve had been talking before the pandemic hit about a sort of stage show that combines musical theater and fantasy," Doherty said about the show's genesis. "Steve had been saying maybe it should be a podcast. Then the pandemic hit, and he was like, "'It should definitely be a podcast.'"
While renewed interest in role-playing games has birthed a constellation of new podcasts, Mythic Thunderlute stands alone as the only one with a heavy dose of musical theater, Doherty says. The show also follows a significantly less-intense version of the game's rules, famously housed in a series of books that often span 300 pages or more, allowing for tight, 45-minute comedic episodes that are equal parts The Lord of the Rings and Spinal Tap.
Once Doherty leads the cast through a session on Zoom — its members are spread across Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Utah — the team inserts sound effects and memorializes three critical moments from each episode in song. Production is coordinated through email, with many cast members adding music and vocal tracks to the final mix.
"We're turning it into an actual musical," Doherty says. "By adding the songs in postproduction, we are replacing specific moments that we played out in the improv with the song. So we're doing storytelling through song, which is not happening in any other D&D podcast."
Since its debut, Mythic Thunderlute has drawn positive reviews and hundreds of downloads on multiple podcasting platforms. The show's release schedule will continue through its ninth episode when it will pause as Castillo prepares to welcome a new baby.
Artwork by Lee Cortopassi.