Homegrown musicals advance with diversity
The year 2011 has been another prosperous one for Korea’s musical industry.
New works from Broadway and the West End, such as “Next to Normal” and “Zorro,” were staged here, while local creators presented a wide range of shows.
According to Interpark, the largest local ticket reservation site, the size of Korea’s musical market was around 250 billion won this year, a 20 percent jump from 2010.
“Mamma Mia!” was the most watched musical of the year, closely followed by “Zorro” and “Jekyll and Hyde.” “Mamma Mia!” is one of the best loved musicals by Koreans and currently on stage at the D-Cube Arts Center. “Zorro” is the hottest new work combining the Gypsy Kings’ music and fabulous swordsmanship and magic by such celebrated actors as Cho Seung-woo and Park Geon-hyeong. The West End hit is currently onstage at the Samsung Electronics Musical Hall. "Jekyll and Hyde" set a new record by drawing 350,000 audience members during its nine-month run, the highest number ever achieved in that time period.
Local producers and creative staff have continued to develop their own musicals.
Among homegrown musicals, "Gwanghwamun Younga" marked the highest sales ranking sixth. With songs written by the late composer Lee Young-hoon, it drew many middle-aged theatergoers as well as young and foreign fans by casting Yang Yo-seop of K-pop group B2st and rocker Yun Do-hyun of YB. However, it failed to receive critical acclaim due to a weak storyline.
Other jukebox musicals including “Romance of Their Own,” composed of K-pop songs, and “Street Life” with music by DJ DOC, showed the possibility of developing this genre locally.
A Korean production of "Sherlock Holmes" was another big success. The musical borrowed the characters from the original novel, but wrote a new story. It also adapted the original characters to fit the stage work. Holmes became more comical, worrying about the consequences of his reasoning and Watson was portrayed as a female, taking care of Holmes. It won Best Musical of the Year, Best Book and Best Score at the 17th Korea Musical Awards.
“Moby Dick” pioneered a new sector by having the actors play their own musical instruments for the show’s numbers. Captain Ahab plays the cello, with the instrument’s stand doubling as his prosthetic leg, while the whale Moby Dick is portrayed by a double bass player in a white suit. Its novel venture was rewarded with favorable reviews and sold out performances.
“Tears of Heaven,” composed by Frank Wildhorn, was highly anticipated for its star-studded casts including Kim Jun-su of K-pop band JYJ and Brad Little. But once the curtains were raised, the audiences felt bewildered amid the story of a Korean soldier, a Vietnamese woman he met during the Vietnam War and fell in love with and an American colonel, which was loosely reminiscent of “Miss Saigon.”
"Hero," portraying the life of Korean independence activist Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910), went to Broadway in the summer. It earned standing ovations for its disciplined choreography, set with a life-size train carriage and songs depicting the “Peace of East Asia” philosophy of Ahn.
"Princess Hours" and "200-Pound Beauty" were staged in Japan, based on the popularity of the original television drama and movie respectively. The musicals also cast famous K-pop stars such as Gyu-ri of Kara and Gyu-jong of SS501, drawing their fans to theaters. “200-Pound Beauty” is aiming to go to China and Singapore in 2012.
Homegrown musical "Laundry" sold its license to Japan and it will be staged in Tokyo in the spring.
The opening of new theaters fueled the expansion of the musical market.
In September the 1,242-seat D-Cube Arts Center opened in Sindorim, western Seoul. Blue Square in Hannam-dong opened in early November with two halls, one for musicals and the other mainly for concerts.
Along with the Charlotte Theater, which opened in 2006, and CJ Arts Center, scheduled to open next year, four big theaters are dedicated to musical productions, providing more opportunities for diversity.