Julia Riew is a Musical theater composer-lyricist, librettist, and songwriter based in New York City. Finding a love for the Arts on her elementary school playground, her interest in composing and songwriting led to writing her first musicals at just 15! Recently graduation from Harvard, Riew became the 2021 inaugural recipient for the Musicians United for Social Equity Linda Twine Scholarship and the winner of the Mia and David Alpert Harvardwood Artist Launch Fellowship. She’s also collaborated with Arielle Jovellanos on a musical graphic novel, and worked on an AAPI-led Legally Blonde at Harvard – but you might know her best for Shimcheong: A Folktale, a musical inspired by the tale of Shimcheongjeon and the music of Disney! Riew’s advice to young artists? “Put yourself out there and indulge in your imagination's wildest dreams – don’t be afraid to showcase your work and tell your story!” Read on to learn more about Julia Riew and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Julia Riew
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Current City: New York City
Current project: Shimcheong: A Folktale
What are some of your favorite credits/projects?
Musical graphic novel collaboration with Arielle Jovellanos, AAPI Legally Blonde at Harvard.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Put yourself out there and indulge in your imagination's wildest dreams – don’t be afraid to showcase your work and tell your story!
How did you get your start?
I first fell in love with theater on the playground in elementary school! We used to put on little plays for the teachers during recess. I started telling my own stories around that age, too, and composing and songwriting in middle school. I’ve been writing musicals since I was 15!
Do you have any favorite moments in your journey in the arts so far that you'd like to share?
Finding my community for the first time with the Asian Student Arts Project, an arts organization on campus!
What are some challenges you’ve encountered?
Struggling to understand my cultural identity in the context of my artistry and the stories that I must tell.
Tell us about what inspired you to choose the story for your Korean American Disney Princess, and how you were able to modernize it to keep traditional themes and values but still have it appeal to a wide audience.
In 2020, my grandfather passed away from COVID and my grandmother moved in with us. As I practiced speaking Korean with her, I asked her about her past and Korea. Listening to her stories made me realize how out of touch I truly was with Korean culture and made me realize that it was time for me to unite my ancestry with my art.As a Korean-American who grew up in the middle of the United States dreaming about visiting Korea and reuniting with my culture, I felt very connected to Shimcheong's journey of wishing to return home and reunite with her father in the original folktale. That's why I selected the folktale in the first place. I was most inspired by Shimcheong's desire to return home.
I would say that my musical, Shimcheong: A Folktale, is more "inspired by" the Blind Man's Daughter than "based on." It's also equally, if not more, inspired by my personal experience as a Korean-American journeying to Korea for the first time and searching for belonging. I sort of followed the Disney formula in that I looked at the original folktale, identified the main themes, characters, and overall story arc, and then created an entirely new story of my own. It resembles the original Shimcheongjeon probably as much as Frozen resembles The Snow Queen.
The thing I wanted to focus most on was making Shimcheong an active and courageous protagonist, rather than a woman who is only praised for her beauty or filial piety. My story is primarily female-driven: the villain, comedic sidekick, protagonist, and best friend characters are all female. And in my story, Shimcheong still dives into the ocean, but she does so as a young child to save her father from drowning – it's an in-the-moment decision that comes from Shimcheong's courage and bravery. She then falls down to the Dragon Kingdom (which is a Queendom in my version) and grows up there before she sets out to return home many years later. This, I felt, served as a metaphor for many first, second, and third-generation children of immigrants such as myself. There's also several other characters that I completely added, merged, divided, or changed in order to flesh out certain narratives, relationships, conflicts, etc.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I started learning how to speak Korean two years ago!
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
Harvard College Asian Student Arts Project.
Who do you admire? My mom!
Do you have any mentors? Timothy Huang, Deborah Wicks La Puma, Diane Borger, and Jeanine Tesori!
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I always dreamed of being in the arts, but I had a bit of an existential crisis during my freshman fall that converted me into a pre-med student up until my junior year of college! But I found my way back luckily :)
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
When I peeked out from behind the curtain and saw the kids in the audience of the first show that I wrote featuring an Asian-American story and characters.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between gigs to pay the bills?
I worked as a college admissions advisor and a college tour guide!
Where did you studying at?
To find out more about Julia Riew, please visit her at:
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