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Posted : 2011-07-06 16:12
Updated : 2011-07-06 16:12

Kolleen Park portrays mentally-ill woman in Next to Normal


From left, actors Nam Kyung-joo, Kolleen Park, Kim Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-yeol / Courtesy of Musical Heaven

By Kwon Mee-yoo

“Next to Normal,” a Broadway hit revolving around a “normal” modern-day family, will hit Seoul in November. Charismatic Kolleen Park plays the lead role of Diana, a mother struggling with bipolar disorder.

Park sang several numbers from the musical, including “You Don’t Know,” “Make up Your Mind,” and “Why Stay?” at a press conference Monday.

Though her Korean pronunciation was not perfectly clear, she expressed the despair of an edgy woman who gave everything to her family.

Park is an established musical director here, having been involved in shows such as “The Last Empress,” “Rent” and “Chicago.” She became well-known among the general public when she shaped a motley crew into a working choir at a KBS variety show “Qualifications of a Man.”

Park said she saw “Next to Normal” on Broadway some two years ago and thought she could return to the stage as an actress as the character Diana.

“Though I’m not married and I don’t have children, I feel similar things with my students — some left me while some still stay with me. I will find the emotions of Diana from my experience,” Park said.

She said she is obedient when she is not in the director’s chair. “On the first day, I told the musical director that I will learn as much as possible from her,” she said.

The musical was first staged off-Broadway in 2008 and moved to Broadway in 2009. It scooped three Tony Awards including the Best Original Score and won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Park Yong-ho, president of Musical Heaven and producer of the show here, said “Next to Normal” is not a gloomy musical though it tackles the keen reality of family life.

“Korea is a country of conflicts and Korean families might be going through similar problems,” the producer said. “However, the musical talks about hope through breakups and unity of the family. Korean audiences should accept such actualities and interpret the family relationships.”

He expressed difficulties in finding the right actress for Diana.

“There are not many actresses in their 40s and I broadened the boundary and asked Park and Kim Ji-hyun to audition for the role and they came to try out,” Park Yong-ho went on to say.

Kim Ji-hyun, also playing Diana, is one of the first Korean actors worked in Japan’s Shiki Theatre Company and has played leading roles such as Rafiki in “The Lion King” and Grizabella in “Cats.” In 2008, she temporarily returned to Korea and joined the Korean production of “Chicago” as Velma.

“It is a challenge for me to play such a plain yet sensitive role,” Kim said.

Veteran actors Nam Kyung-joo (“Kiss Me, Kate,” 2010) and Lee Jung-yeol (“Miss Saigon,” 2010) will play Dan, a devoted husband and father.

Choi Jae-rim, another star of “Qualifications of a Man” and pupil of Kolleen Park, plays Diana and Dan’s son Gabe. “I fell in love with Gabe at first sight,” Choi said.

Actor Han Ji-sang, who will share the role of Gabe with Choi, could not attend the event since he is serving as a policeman as part of his mandatory military service. The producer said he will join rehearsals as soon as he is released from the conscripted service.

Actress Oh So-yeon plays daughter Natali and Lee Sang-min is her boyfriend Henry.

The Korean rendition is going to be a replica production and Laura Pietropinto, assistant director of the Broadway show, will direct.

The musical will open on Nov. 18 at Yonkang Hall in Doosan Art Center, Seoul. More details will be announced later. Call (02) 744-4337 for more information.

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