Massachusetts' American Repertory Theater has signed on to develop Julia Riew's musical Dive, formerly titled Shimcheong: A Folktale. The Tony-winning company has assembled an all-female, Asian-American creative team to work on the project, including Stop Kiss playwright Diana Son and Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus.
The work follows a young woman's journey towards self-actualization and home after falling into the depths of the ocean trying to save her father. Riew draws inspiration from her own life as a third-generation Korean-American for the story, a modernized adaptation of the Korean folktale Shimcheong, or The Blind Man's Daughter. The musical began as a senior thesis project during Riew's time at Harvard, where A.R.T. Director of Artistic Programs and Dramaturg Ryan McKittrick served as her thesis advisor. Riew is additionally transforming the project into a Young Adult novel, set to be published by HarperCollins Children's in fall 2025.
Riew has made the project somewhat of a social media sensation through posts on TikTok, amassing a following of more than 124,000 users, 2.8 million likes, and more than 16 million streams. The musical's future will be documented on social media as well, with those interested in following the process encouraged to follow Riew on TikTok and Instagram for behind-the-scenes content, new music, and more.
The project is the latest in a four-year collaboration between Riew and A.R.T. The company previously commissioned and premiered her family-oriented musicals Thumbelina: A Little Musical and Jack and the Beanstalk: A Musical Adventure, and Riew served as music and dramaturgy assistant for the company's 2021 production of Wild: A Musical Becoming, and as a stage management assistant on 2019's Gloria: A Life.
"Dive is the musical that I wish I could’ve seen as a child—one for all ages that grapples with themes of identity, friendship, love, and belonging," says Riew in a statement. "With this adaptation, Diana, Diane, and I intend to give Shimcheong’s character a new sense of agency and to create opportunities for actresses in a variety of roles. I couldn’t be more excited to develop this piece at the American Repertory Theater, which has grown to be my theatrical home. I’m grateful for the guidance of the incredible artists at A.R.., and I’m beyond thrilled to embark on this adventure with Diane—a director with unparalleled vision—and the brilliant Diana Son: two great inspirations to me as fellow female, Asian-American theatre-makers.”
"Julia Riew is an extraordinary artist with an enormous heart and a transformative vision," adds Paulus, whose mother was Japanese. "Dive speaks directly to the A.R.T.’s mission to expand the boundaries of theatre, bringing to our stages a story that has not been seen or heard in American musical theatre. I am thrilled to be working with Julia and Diana, and to be a part of this all female Asian-American team."
Riew will perform songs from Dive at her upcoming NYC solo concert debut, set at 54 Below for April 27.