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LDS composer shares story of hope in 'The Prodigal Son' musical to be performed at the Conference Center Theater

When he was 13 years old, Andres Paredes loved to look at scores — classical music scores. He’d sit for hours reviewing scores while listening to Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky on CDs he’d check out at the library. He said he loved the complexity of sounds.

When watching Disney movies, he liked to figure out which instrument made which sound.

"It was just all those different sounds that I think captivated my curiosity as a child," Paredes said in an interview with the Deseret News.

Even when he listened to pop music, he tried to determine how stars such as Céline Dion crafted the catchy tunes, he said. At an early age, Paredes was teaching himself how to compose music.

Now, years later, he still likes to look at music scores, and he also writes his own. His latest production is "The Prodigal Son," a musical based on the biblical parable. It will be presented May 12­-14 at the Conference Center Theater. Paredes is the producer, composer and lyricist for the production.

Paredes is a self-taught musician, composer and lyricist. He was born in Lima, Peru, and his family moved to Salt Lake City when he was 11. Paredes, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been living in Utah for most of the 25 years since.

From a very young age, Paredes was drawn to music. He learned to play the mandolin from his father, picked up the violin in junior high and taught himself piano in high school. He started composing around the age of 14.

Several years ago, his stake president, Todd G. Mabey of the Salt Lake Pioneer Utah Stake, asked Paredes to create something to be presented on their new stage at their facility.

Paredes began reviewing stories he could tell onstage. He finally settled on the parable of the prodigal son. Taken from Luke 15:11-32, the story is about a son who loses his way, makes some mistakes and eventually comes home and is forgiven.

“It really applies to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It transcends socio-economic levels, race, ethnicity,” Paredes said. After all, he pointed out, this particular rendition is unique because “it is a Peruvian telling a Jewish story in English.”

The most important message from the story is one of hope, Paredes said.

After much writing and rewriting, composing and rearranging, members of the Pioneer Stake performed "The Prodigal Son" in 2013. It was so well received that Mabey suggested sending the script and score to LDS Church headquarters.

Mabey found the music particularly powerful.

“There are a couple of pieces that just leave you spellbound, that just leave you awed,” he said. “You cannot help but feel that compassion and that feeling of loving and caring.”

The score and script were eventually approved. Since then, Paredes has expanded the script with more characters and dialogue and twice as many songs. The 45-minute musical now runs for an hour and a half.

The process took an additional year and a half and wasn't easy, he said. Paredes found himself drawing on the musical’s theme of hope when he hit roadblocks.

“I had written all these words of hope, and I had to even sing the songs to myself,” he said.

While the musical’s main theme is one of hope, behind the scenes, Paredes told a story of perseverance — like that of the early LDS pioneers who endured hardships to reach Utah. Like the pioneers who were strengthened and guided through their hardships, Paredes said he felt “an unseen hand that helps you in moments when you think you are alone and the moments that you think there is no way out.”

While writing the final version of the musical, Paredes focused on themes that affected teenagers. He said society “might make them feel like all is lost and now there is no way back,” but he hopes the story will remind them that they can always come back and find love and forgiveness.

Nick Neel, the 18-year-old who plays the Prodigal Son, said this is a play for youths as it is told from the perspective of a youth. He said he was able to connect with the character and learn from his mistakes.

His favorite part is a scene with a song called "The Rivalry Quartet."

"At this point, the prodigal son is the most conflicted and manipulated," he said. "I feel the song really portrays the character well, and it's a fun song to sing."

If you go ...

What: "The Prodigal Son" musical

When: May 12-14, 7 p.m., and May 14, 3 p.m.

Where: Conference Center Theater, 60 N. Temple

How much: $4

Phone: 801-570-0080


Peruvian Pioneer and the Prodigal Son

Lead actor Nick Neel performs "I'll Wait No More," written by Andres Paredes for The Prodigal Son musical.