20,000 leagues under the sea

An Original Musical by
Christopher Tyler Nickel
Based on the novel by Jules Verne

A reclusive genius

an adventurous young woman





Nemo overture
A World all of my Own
Nemo Opening
Past the Horizon
Sinking the Lincoln
Welcome to the Nautilus
Find in Me
Destruction Of The Nautilus
A Musical by Christopher Tyler Nickel

Nemo – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

In Jules Verne’s original novel, set in the late 1800s, several ships spot what they think is a sea monster (similar to a narwhal). An expedition is sent to sea to search for the creature, headed up by Professor Pierre Aronnax (a notable French scientist who specializes in marine biology). Also joining the expedition is harpoonist and whaler Ned Land. The expedition sets to sea on the United States Navy vessel Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln manages to locate the giant creature, but they soon discover that it is actually a submarine. The Lincoln futilely attacks it, but the submarine is well ahead of its time and survives, finally ramming the Lincoln. During this attack, Dr. Aronnax, Ned Land, and Aronnax’s assistant Conseil are flung from the deck on the Lincoln. Showing mercy, the captain of the submarine (Captain Nemo as we soon discover) plucks them from the sea and brings them onboard the submarine, called the Nautilus.
Verne’s story continues by following the protagonists as they begin to learn about Captain Nemo, his mighty submarine, and his secret life under the sea, and desire to separate himself from the rest of civilization. Aronnax, given his scientific background, finds Nemo’s ship and life fascinating, and together they visit many places under the ocean as part of Nemo’s ongoing exploration, and desire to hide from the surface-world. Ned Land, on the other hand feels they are prisoners, as they are not allowed to leave the Nautilus for fear of them exposing Nemo’s secret. Ned Land consistently tries to convince Aronnax that they must escape, and often attempts to sabotage the Nautilus.
Gradually as the novel progresses, Nemo’s initial behaviour of taking Aronnax under his wing gradually becomes colder. Aronnax slowly comes around to see Ned Land’s point of view.
Eventually a ship of the same nation as Nemo’s origin, finds the Nautilus and once again and attack ensues. Nemo manages to defeat and sink the vessel, which slips into the abyss killing the crew. Yet again, Nemo’s hatred for civilization drives him to kill. Nemo’s behaviour becomes more erratic and his mood depressed. Aronnax can no longer tolerate the situation, and the three main characters take their changes on evening and manage to escape in a dinghy while the Nautilus has surfaced. The Nautilus begins to drift into a Maelstrom, and leaves the protagonists at sea not knowing the fate of Nemo and his crew.
Revised Storyline


For this musical version of Verne’s story, a few artistic liberties have been taken to help create a story that is more relevant to today’s audience and easier to stage.
Firstly, the original character of Pierre Aronnax has been altered, and is now a young woman, Emily Aronnax. Still set Paris in the 1800s, Emily’s character is the daughter of the famous Dr. Aronnax, who was a well-respected professor and explorer. Her father was put in charge of an expedition to find out why numerous French ships had gone missing at sea. His expedition was lost and never heard from since setting out when Emily was just a young girl.
Now that she’s older, well educated, and having inherited both her mother and father’s intellect and exploring personalities, Emily is determined to find out the fate of her father. In order to do this though, she must challenge the societal norm of the time that women should not be independent nor in positions of power and authority.
Captain Nemo, the enigmatic and brilliant scientist who lost his wife to an incurable disease, has retreated into his own world, a self-exile of sorts. In secret, he, with the help of a trusted group of other intellectuals who all share the desire to leave the world behind and forge a new life exploring the vast seas, living free from a petty, artistically and intellectually limited world, has built a state-of-the-art submarine. This submarine, the Nautilus, is more advanced and powerful than any sea-going vessel created at the time.
Nemo is brilliant, but also hurt and obsessed with this new lifestyle that he feels he has created and must safeguard. He is driven by a deep desire to escape the “surface world”, and ferociously protects himself and his crew’s secrecy. Nemo is younger in this musical version of the story. He is a handsome man in his late thirties or early forties. He projects brilliance, but also a consuming, obsessive madness at times.
Another alteration to the story is that Emily Aronnax, after being “captured/rescued” by Nemo and his crew, begins to find in him a kindred spirit… someone of great intellect, compassion, genius, and need for exploration. She falls in love with him, and slowly, he with her. A love triangle however is created due to Nemo’s love for and obsession with the new life he’s created through abandoning the civilized world. Emily on the other hand sees an injured soul in Nemo and feels he can still come back to the world she knows and be healed of the scars of his past.
The scenes in this promotional kit are designed to capture the essential dramatic moments in the musical, as well as the most important interactions and conflicts between the characters.

The Characters

Emily Aronnax
The daughter of Dr. Aronnax (who was a famous personality in Paris of 1800, known for both his expansive scientific knowledge as well as being an accomplished explorer who led many research expeditions). Emily Aronnax’s father was lost in an expedition that was put together to investigate why French ships were being lost at sea. In the pursuit of this, his expedition itself was lost. Emily, haunted by this memory and the mystery of her lost father, and fueled by her natural curiosity, sets out to plan her own expedition and has hired the ship “Lincoln”. Expected at the time to ‘stay in her place’ as a young woman, Emily’s single-mindedness and determination to be independent and purse the mystery of her father defines her character.
Captain Nemo
The enigmatic captain of the submarine “Nautilus”. Nemo was once an accomplished scientist whose theories and engineering skills were well beyond their time. Nemo used to live in Paris, but tragedy struck him when his wife suddenly died of an unknown and incurable illness. Nemo became reclusive, and began a project to build his dream… an independently powered submarine that could be sustained largely through the resources that the ocean could provide, where he could escape the pain of the world of the surface. Nemo is an obsessive, who has grown cold and emotionless over time. He relies on science and reason to guide him and his crew’s lives, and yet is faced with the contradiction between a logic-driven life, and a deep-seeded hatred for the “surface-world”. In addition, Emily Aronnax stirs in him emotions of affection that he hasn’t felt since the passing of his wife. Emily challenges his cold, hard exterior, by seeing beyond it to the brilliant man with whom she has fallen in love.
Ned Land
A whale hunter by trade, Ned Land was hired to be a part of Emily Aronnax’s expedition. The theory that the expedition is working on is that some large sea creature has been responsible for the lost ships, so naturally a hunter of these large marine mammals would be an asset to the crew of the “Lincoln”. Ned Land is simple, stubborn, gruff, poorly educated, but has the finely honed instincts of someone who has spend the majority of their life at sea.

Stage and Set Design

  • The proscenium around the stage is covered in curtains until the descent of the Nautilus, which occurs after the rescue of Emily Aronnax and Ned Land from the sea. At this point the curtains fall away revealing dark, riveted metal, consistent with the structure of the Nautilus.
  • Emily Aronnax's study: A simple set that makes use of darkness rather than an elaborate set. Her opening song (Past the Horizon) is sung simply on a desk with a solitary gas-lit lamp on it. Papers are strewn over the desktop, perhaps some books on the shelves behind which are illuminated dimly with gas lighting.
  • At various points in Act 1, through a smoke/mist filled stage, we allude to the presence of the Nautilus via a greenish/blue lit dorsal surface of the submarine. The submarine illusion is created through lighting, smoke, and some riveted dorsal superstructure culminating in a long, gently flowing (from stage forward to back) fin of the submarine.
  • The Lincoln ship (a large 1800s frigate) consists only of the stern and side of the ship, the rest is implied through shadow. This set would be off to stage left as to allow the interaction with the Nautilus (superstructure and lighting again) as it moves toward the Lincoln to ram it.
  • The Nautilus’ Brig: Again using stage darkness, there are riveted steel walls and one steel door with a single portal. Bunks are also possible. The set would have a cold, sterile feeling, not giving much away as to where Emily and Ned find themselves. Grays, blues, and blacks dominate the palette.
  • Nemo’s Study, and the Nautilus’ Bridge: The grandest set, mostly accomplished through layered curtains and lighting. A steering wheel that is slightly worn and made from wood stands in the centre. Stations for Nemo’s crew surround it. Besides the wheel, the surrounding stations and walls are deep blue/grey steel with riveting, that has a cold feeling, yet also a feeling of brilliance and elegance (as the rest of the vessel). Forward of them (at the back of the stage) is the circular steel rived framework of grand windows that stretch floor to ceiling. These are closed, but once backlit reveal the slowly dancing, deep colours of the ocean. These are magnificent and imposing windows through which Nemo and his crew both take in the ocean vistas, as well as see where the Nautilus is travelling. The bridge is also where the main action for the finale occurs as the Nautilus self-destructs. In this final scene, the set, masked by intense strobe lighting, must disappear leaving only the mist of the ‘ocean’ at the end.

Songs and Action

1. Overture
Location – curtains closed stage. The overture is played against an eerily lit curtain of slowly dancing blues and greens, which sets the mood more than location of the start of this story.
2. Opening
Location – Emily Aronnax’s study / the implied Nautilus at sea. As the curtain lifts, we are left with a black stage, slightly off to one side is an old desk, covered with papers, and a gas-lit lamp. At the desk sits Emily Aronnax. This first song tells the audience the story of the loss of her father when she was a child, how the memory has haunted her, and how her determination has grown to find answers to what happened to her father. The crescendo of her line leads back to the music heard in the overture. Mist fills the stage as the “Nautilus” theme is played we see an eerie glow beneath the mist, almost an outline of the top of a Victorian-styled submarine (but all we really see is the glow and some of the superstructure). As the music builds a strange light begins to emanate from the dorsal surface of the vessel, as a hatch opening and pure bright white with almost a hot intensity comes pouring out. As the “Nemo Theme” begins, a figure mysteriously steps into the light. This figure is dressed in what looks like an antique (to our eyes) diving suit and helmet. As the figure faces the audience, it removes the helmet (still against the bright light) and disappears “into” the vessel leaving only the shining light. This is the first mysterious glimpse of Captain Nemo.
3. Past the Horizon (Aronnax’s Song)
Location – Emily Aronnax's study. This jaunty and energized song takes us from Emily’s study (for which the set now is in full view). The song portrays Emily’s enthusiasm and determination, as well as relaying more of the story and mystery of the loss of her father, as well as her desire to be a more independent woman, and her dreams of exploring the world.
4. Sinking the Lincoln
Location – night on the open ocean, with the side of the Lincoln stage left, and the implied lighting of the Nautilus stage right in the mist. The stage is filled with mist again as this scene takes place during the night at sea. On one side is the side of the Lincoln ship, the other open water. Lanterns on the side of the ship’s deck, as well as light cast from a full moon dimly light the Lincoln. Ned Land and miscellaneous crew stand watch. Finally one crew sees something off the ship’s port bow. They believe it to possibly be the creature that they are hunting. The creature seems to slowly start to move toward the ship. The crew sounds the warning bell, and Ned Land readies his powerful harpoon… always ready for a fight. The “creature” steadily increases speed toward the Lincoln (still slowly on stage, moving from the back of stage right forward. The illusion can be enhanced by having metal superstructure of the Nautilus move forward as well as increasing in size). The music swells fatalistically against the jagged rhythms, which create an unsettled/fatalistic feeling that reaches a peak when the Nautilus rams the Lincoln. The Lincoln sinks and her crew is lost, with the exception of Ned Land and Emily Aronnax who are thrown from the ship’s deck.
5. Welcome to the Nautilus
Location – Nautilus Brig. During the attack and sinking of the Lincoln, Ned Land and Emily Aronnax are tossed from the ship into the ocean. Against his better judgment, Nemo surfaces the Nautilus and plucks the duo’s unconscious bodies from the ocean. The two characters awake in the Nautilus’ brig, alone in this new strange environment without any clear recollection of what has happened. Ned Land immediately is suspicious and sees themselves as prisoners, whereas Aronnax, steeped in science, begins to try and gather evidence and assess who may have rescued them and why.
6. A World all of my Own
Location – Nautilus’ Bridge / Nemo’s study. This is Nemo’s aria, a song he sings to Emily Aronnax. The song expresses his past, the pain of his wife’s loss, and his determination to make a new life for himself away from the “surface world”. The song also flirts with the first glimmer of attraction between the characters, but it is.
7. My Heart (Arronax’s Love Song)
Location – Nautilus’ Bridge / Nemo’s study. After Nemo shows Emily the Nautilus and the world he lives in, she is struck by his vast knowledge, sensitivity to life, and devotion to reason, logic, and fairness for his crew. His crew enjoys the intellectual freedom and capacity for self-realization that she craves from the world, which has severely limited her opportunities. Despite her best efforts, she begins to fall in love with the mysterious Nemo. But her heart is also one that doesn’t fully understand his determination not to return to the surface world. This song is largely about her growing love for Nemo, and the freeing effect he has on her.
8. Find in Me
Location – On board the Nautilus. This is a duet sung by Emily Aronnax and Captain Nemo that comes at the point in the show where these two characters have realized and finally are admitting their love for one another. Nemo is now reaching a point where he feels he can free himself from his self-imposed exile, while on the other hand Aronnax clearly sees the hurt, yet beautiful soul behind Nemo’s cold facade.
9. The Destruction of the Nautilus and Finale
Location – Nautilus’ Bridge / Nemo’s study. Another ship has been dispatched to investigate the loss of the Lincoln. Due to Ned Land’s attempts to sabotage the Nautilus, Nemo and his crew have been forced to surface. An explosion that rocks the interior of the Nautilus begins the song. Nemo attempts to fight back, but the Nautilus’ torpedoes are damaged and unable to fire. Nemo’s only concern is that of the Nautilus being boarded, his life’s work falling into the wrong hands, and his dream of a life away from the surface world destroyed. Nemo decides to blow up the Nautilus instead of taking the risk of it being taken from him, even though he, his crew, and Ned and Emily will all die. Ned Land, furious and driven by anger, lashes out at Nemo while also trying to convince Emily to free him (he has been tied up due to his many attempts to sabotage the Nautilus) so that they can attempt to escape. Emily instead tries to reason with and eventually begs Nemo to not destroy the Nautilus. She thinks that the other ship can be reasoned with and that she and Nemo could start afresh rather than perish to the deep. Nemo however, in a break from reality, blames Ned and Emily for the situation and continues his plan to destroy the Nautilus. Finally, he throws the lever and the self-destruction of the ship begins as the other ship’s crew begins to board. The music crescendos to the explosion and destruction of the ship. The set recesses into the darkness of the stage. The only thing left afterward is a solitary light on Nemo’s diving helmet resting on the stage (in the same place as Emily’s solitarily lit desk at the beginning), with the slowly dancing blue and green lighting flickering around it, representing the deep abyss.

Concept art

Nautilus on Stage

At various points in Act 1, through a smoke/mist filled stage, we allude to the presence of the Nautilus via a greenish/blue lit dorsal surface of the submarine. The submarine illusion is created through lighting, smoke, and some riveted dorsal superstructure culminating in a long, gently flowing (from stage forward to back) fin of the submarine.

Nautilus and Lincoln

The Lincoln ship (a large 1800s frigate) consists only of the stern and side of the ship, the rest is implied through shadow. This set would be off to stage left as to allow the interaction with the Nautilus (superstructure and lighting again) as it moves toward the Lincoln to ram it.

Nautilus Bridge

Nemo’s Study, and the Nautilus’ Bridge is the grandest set, mostly accomplished through layered curtains and lighting. A steering wheel that is slightly worn and made from wood stands in the centre. Forward of them (at the back of the stage) is the circular steel-rived framework of grand windows that stretch floor to ceiling. These are closed, but once backlit reveal the slowly dancing, deep colours of the ocean.


Nemo is written as a musical, but not a standard musical. It is meant to straddle the worlds of musical theatre, opera, concert music, and even film music. There is a romantic, melodic thrust to the score. I’ve incorporated some of the aesthetics of the grand film scores to create a large, sweeping sound with the orchestration. My concert music background also shows itself through the jagged, highly asymmetric writing of pieces such as the Sinking of the Lincoln, and the Brig sequence. 
These are difficult pieces, but the payoff is a deeper music tapestry that captures the uncertain nature of the character’s predicament, and the contradicting emotions that they experience. The score is dark, grand, brooding, and full of conflict and contrasts. This is not meant to be an upbeat “traditional” musical, filled with pastiche, “jazz hands”, and big band numbers. This is a musical that is a piece of theatre rooted in a Wagnerian-like sensibility. The full effect is achieved through the dramatic score, evocative set design, moody and suggestive lighting, and a stellar cast that can capture and communicate the gamut of emotions that the characters experience.
Jules Verne’s classical novel provides the perfect backdrop onto which I have built a dramatic love triangle between Nemo (one of the great obsessives), Aronnax (a young woman searching for more freedom and self-determination, a woman beyond her years, highly educated and filled with an adventurous spirit, who finds many of these qualities in the reclusive Nemo), and Nemo’s obsession and love for the freedom and life he has found in his dark world of the ocean’s abyss.
I’ve taken liberties with Verne’s novel, adding the back-story of Nemo losing his wife to an unknown illness (which challenges his strong belief in his own scientific capabilities). I’ve also changed Verne’s Pierre Aronnax into Emily Aronnax. I felt that, firstly, this enabled a unique love triangle to be built, but secondly (and perhaps more importantly), we establish a strong female character, who I believe contemporary audiences can identify with and believe. She is a role model in many ways; a strong, independent female heroine, whereas in much of the musical theatre of the past, women took a secondary role. Lastly, although I see this musical as ultimately a human story of pain, loss, love, growth, and determination; there is also a slight adventure/science fiction aspect to the story… something I believe we have rarely seen on the theatre stage. All of this creates a wonderful, rich backdrop for our love story… and for a story of self-discovery, passion, and obsession, to unfold.
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Scene breakdown

of the complete musical

about the composer

  • “Epic without being at all overdone… with thrilling orchestral textures… Riveting”

     BBC Music Magazine
  • “These substantial, often engaging works are accorded full justice by the soloists for whom they were conceived.”

     Gramophone Magazine
  • “Nickel’s music is full of life: imagination, invention, variation … This is composition at its best – arresting and masterful.”

     The Whole Note
  • “…intensely focused….a rewarding experience, and although it is an intense experience, it can be an uplifting, energizing experience. A stretching experience, if you will.”

     Classical Candor
With his music being heard in over 160 countries, award-winning composer Christopher Tyler Nickel has composed a wide range of bold and dramatic music for film, television, the concert hall and theatre. A graduate of the University of British Columbia School of Music with a degree in composition, upon graduation Christopher continued his studies in both New York and Los Angeles.

Christopher’s music has been described as “Epic without being at all overdone… with thrilling orchestral textures… Riveting” ★★★★ (BBC Music magazine), “… full of life: imagination, invention, variation … this is composition at its best – arresting and masterful.” (The Whole Note), “The music is tightly woven and hangs together sturdily. There is no dwindling of vitality across these 53 minutes.” (MusicWeb International), “… substantial, often engaging…” (Gramophone Magazine), “…intensely focused….” (Classical Candor), and “the athleticism of both Nickel’s music and the performers is exhilarating … The orchestral writing is strikingly beautiful” (MusicWeb International).

The author of numerous concert works, Christopher’s music has been performed by orchestras and chamber ensembles in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Recently, internationally renowned cello virtuoso Inbal Segev commissioned the work Fractures of Solitude for her 20 for 2020 album. Notable performances include two world premieres by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Fanfare for Freedom performed by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic for an audience of forty-thousand, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s performance or the aforementioned work for an audience of nine-thousand. Other works include a concerto for piccolo written for Sarah Jackson (principal piccolo of the Los Angeles Philharmonic); Tranquility for solo English horn and orchestra premiered by the Vancouver Symphony’s Beth Orson; and in 2015 the premiere of his Oboe Concerto written for Roger Cole, principal oboe of the Vancouver Symphony. Other major works include a Requiem; his expansive single-movement Symphony No.2, and a seven-hour oratorio setting of the Gospel According to Mark. His theatre works include a musical based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, ballet music for CatchingART Contemporary Ballet, as well as composing music for celebrated director Christopher Gaze and the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver.

His critically acclaimed recordings include the album Concertos for Oboe (Avie Records) with the Seattle Symphony’s principal oboist Mary Lynch and the National Symphony’s Harrison Linsey as soloists. The Centrediscs release of Music for Woodwind Choirs, and his Symphony No.2 also from Avie Records which has garnered glowing reviews from leading music publications including BBC Music and Gramophone magazines. Christopher’s music is published by C.F. Peters, Robert Wendel Music, C. Alan Publications, and the Canadian Music Centre.

In the world of film and television music, Christopher has composed music for hundreds of hours of film and television productions for clients that include the Discovery Channel, Corus, SyFy, Hallmark, Alliance Atlantis Television, YTV, Lifetime, the National Film Board of Canada, National Geographic, Teletoon, Cinetel, HGTV, Telefilm Canada, W-Network, Animal Planet, TLC, and the History Channel. His scores include all the original music for the hit global docu-reality phenomenon Highway thru Hell (currently in its eleventh season and seen in over 140 countries) which at the time of its premiere was the highest rated show in Discovery’s history. Other series scores include The Nature of Things: Dinosaur Cold Case for the CBC, the critically acclaimed Airshow for Discovery, Game of Homes for W Network, all seven seasons of the top-rated Heavy Rescue 401, Mud Mountain Haulers, Confessions: Animal Hoarding, Untold Stories of the ER, Wild Bear Rescue for Animal Planet, and High Arctic Haulers for CBC. He has also composed the themes for Save My Reno and Worst to First.

Dramatic scores include Transparency starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Estella Warren, The Christmas Consultant with David Hasselhoff and Caroline Rhea, All of my Heart starring Lacey Chabert and Ed Asner, Love in Paradise and Welcome Home both starring Luke Perry, Moonlight in Vermont, Journey Back to Christmas starring Candice Cameron Bure and Tom Skerritt, My Christmas Dream starring Danica McKellar, Way of the Wicked with Christian Slater, and Highway to Heaven starring Grammy-winning artist Jill Scott, amongst many other titles.

Christopher has been honoured with four SOCAN Awards, the 2004 Gold Medal for Best Action Score at the Park City Film Music Festival, the 2002 Golden Key International Performing Arts Award for Musical Composition, two Western Canadian Music Award nominations for his concert recordings, and fourteen Leo Award nominations and two wins for his music for film and television.

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