Sunday, December 17, 2006

Broadway's Heart 'N Seoul

Broadway’s Heart 'N Seoul

Ever doubt the continued power or global reach of the Great White Way? Well, halfway around the world in Seoul, South Korea, I learned that some Broadway’s more enduring recent productions are a hit here, too.

During my just concluded 24 hour visit here earlier today, I was surprised to learn that such popular American musicals as The Full Monty and The Lion King are currently gracing Seoul’s stages, as is that popular British import Evita.

The Lion King is playing at Seoul’s Charlotte Theatre through December 31 with tickets ranging from approximately $40 US to $100 US, while Evita is performing at the LG Art Center through January 31, with tickets priced from about $45 US to $70 US. Both The Lion King and Evita advertise that their scores are being sung in Korean.

Additionally, just in time for New Year’s, Grease is making a return to the Korean stage with a score that’s also sung entirely in Korean.

On top of all the decidedly Western theatre, there is also the much more traditional Korean theatre, including the home-grown musical The Last Empress, playing at the Haeorum Theater (National Theater of Korea) through December 24:

Original musical production is scheduled to delight musical lovers of all ages with its heart-wrenching tale of a tragic Korean queen at the eve of a Japanese incursion into Joseon. Queen Min is a historical figure best known for her resistance against Japanese influence in Joseon’s royal court.”

To be honest, The Last Empress sounds much more appealing than the Broadway-bound The Pirate Queen.

Perhaps due to the ongoing American military presence here, there is a surprising plethora of Western-influenced fare, including one English language production with a rather inspired premise that just completed it run in Itaewon. Called And They Used To Be Stars, the play is described as “a comedy that deals with fame, celebrity, drug addiction, infidelity and friendship. Their names? Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. They were huge…so what happened to them?” Sounds tantalizingly subversive, although I seriously doubt Disney would allow a show like this to move forward in America uncontested.

Getting a huge amount of pre-opening publicity is that aforementioned venerable hit Grease. In a story in Saturday’s Joong Ang Daily -- Korea’s English language news partner to the International Herald Tribune -- reporter Lee Ho-jeong reports on its impending opening just before New Year’s:

The T-Birds of Rydell High are oiling up for the upcoming musical Grease, which
will begin on December 30 at the Dong Soong Art Center.

Grease became popular as a movie with the same title, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. If you like rock-and-roll then ending the year with this internationally acclaimed musical may be a good idea.

This version of Grease will be performed by Korean artists, including Hong Rocky, Korea’s most adored comedian.

Hong was one of the original cast members when the musical debuted in Korea in May 2003 -- he played Danny Zuko’s best friend Kenickie. He will be playing the same character in this year’s musical, which has already received good reviews in provincial theaters.

This version of the show ran until November 17 at a theater near Konkuk University. The new Danny, Kim San-ho, will be performing the lead character. According to OD Musical Company, which is staging the musical, their Grease shows have created future stars, including Oh Man-seok, who became a television celebrity this year after appearing in the television drama “Vineyard Man.” The musical is set for an open run, with no pre-set closing date.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time during my visit to take in any theatre, and it’s likely that if I did, I would have opted to see something more uniquely Korean. For what’s the purpose of going to a distant land if you stick too tightly to your own culture?

Speaking of which, I have to admit that I was completely put off by the ubiquity of such American fare as McDonald’s and Starbucks in Seoul. But as for theatre -- while I doubt that I’d take in Western-style entertainment unless I was living here a long time -- Broadway is positively making this big world seem just a little bit smaller and arguably remains one of our better exports.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 17 December, 2006, Anonymous Esther said...

An interesting observation about Broadway being one of the better American exports. I never really thought of it as an "export."

Sure, every little kid just about everywhere in the world has heard of Mickey Mouse and Disneyworld. And McDonald's and Starbucks are everywhere. Same for American movies. But I don't really think of American theater that way, although I guess it is, especially musical theater. Certainly, Disney productions like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast have built-in audiences.

Maybe, like you said, South Korea is a special situation because of the large U.S. military presence.

It would be a shame, though, if the blockbuster U.S. productions mean that local theater has less of a chance to flourish.

At 24 December, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


Appreciate your comments. From what I understand, each of the major Broadway shows playing Seoul is being performed in Korean, so it's doubtful that they're catering to American troops stationed there.

There did seem to be an abundance of genuinely Korean theatre peacefully coexisting with the decidedly American (or English) fare. That's a great sign for healthy theatre anywhere.


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