SALT LAKE CITY — When composer Daniel Carter found himself temporarily in a psych ward in 2005, it seemed his life had completely fallen apart. Within seven years, he had gone through two divorces, experienced homelessness and attempted suicide.
Through trial after trial, Henry Van Dyke’s “The Story of the Other Wise Man” kept coming to Carter’s mind.
“I either had to die from my own bitterness and self-hatred or I had to figure out a reason to live,” Carter said. “As I looked at the story of Artaban, the Other Wise Man, it was kind of an everyman’s journey, and I thought, ‘What if there is a happy life out there and I could find it?’”
This became his personal quest, and Carter found that through his challenges, he was able to craft a powerful musical adaptation of Artaban’s story, one Carter has spent 22 years trying to capture.
“If I had never had the experiences I’ve gone through, I don’t think that I would be able to write the kind of music that I’ve written for this,” Carter said.
Carter’s musical, that premieres in Salt Lake City this week, tells the pay-it-forward story of Artaban, a fourth wise man who spends his life searching for Jesus Christ. During his quest, Artaban gives away a ruby, sapphire and pearl intended as gifts for the infant Messiah to help others he meets along his journey.
“We can all relate to Artaban somehow,” Carter said. “He has to face some very, very deep personal issues and what it means for him to either overcome them or come to terms and to return to peace, to return to love.”
Carter, a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has written a number of well-known LDS songs, including “As Now We Take the Sacrament,” “The Shepherd’s Carol,” “A Young Man Prepared,” and “Come Unto Him,” recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on its 2011 album “This Is The Christ.”
The composer’s first inspiration for “Artaban, the Other Wise Man, the Musical” came in 1993 when he bought an old copy of Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man” at an antique mall in Weatherford, Oklahoma.
“As I began to read, I’d scribble notes in the margins, ‘Well, this would be a song,’” Carter said.
The composer produced the first concert version of the story in 1994, which was very well-received, he said. Over the years, Carter changed and reinvented his composition several times and recently turned the music over to a creative team, which turned it into a musical.
Mindy Pack, the production’s music director, said she has been impressed with the way Carter has taken a backseat with his creation and allowed the team to change and adapt it.
“When we finally brought him back in, he was speechless, crying, just like, ‘I had no idea that it could turn into something like this,’” Pack said.
A portion of the ticket sales for the production will go to Family Promise, a charity that provides food, shelter and support for homeless families.
“If our show is about moving forward and helping others, why wouldn’t we as a show help others if we can?” Pack asked. “That’s one of the reasons why I jumped on board with it.”
Carter said the idea for this initiative originated from his experience performing an abbreviated concert version of Artaban’s story at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Salt Lake City. Through this performance, Carter was able to help raise more than $4,000 for Hildegarde’s Pantry, which provides food and personal care items to those in need.
“Once that happened and the numbers came in, I was so elated,” Carter said. “They had never raised that much for Hildegarde’s Pantry, and I thought, ‘This is what I have to do with the show.’”
The musical’s partnership with Family Promise is in conjunction with its association with a nonprofit production company Carter created, Under the Sun Productions, Inc. The nonprofit aims to provide local talent with performance opportunities and donate to highly rated charities through these productions.
Carter said he hopes to expand the production in the future to perform in more than one location and continue to donate to Family Promise and other charities.
Pack said although the musical follows the Bible story of Christ’s birth, its underlying theme is applicable to everyone, religious or nonreligious.
“It’s about being a good human and making good choices,” Pack said. “The overall message is serving others and coming from a place of love and forgiveness.”
Pack said listening to the musical’s lyrics and melodies makes it obvious that they come from a deep place within Carter’s personal journey.
“I say to people that ground zero is your best opportunity in life,” Carter said. “If you can stop licking the wounds of your losses, you’ll find that everything is still moving towards you and that it can be a beautiful life.”
If you go
What: “Artaban, the Other Wise Man, the Musical”
When: Wednesday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 2, 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Where: Wasatch Jr. High School, 3750 S. 3100 East, Salt Lake City
How Much: Tickets range from $15 to $20