Go to contents

'Korean Jean Valjean' receives curtain calls in Japan

Posted July. 03, 2017 07:26,   

Updated July. 03, 2017 07:33

It was the night on June 9 at the Deikoku Theater in Tokyo. Female audiences who watched the musical "Les Misérables" were full of tears. Everyone stood up as Korean actor Yang Joon-mo who played the leading role as Jean Valjean appeared on the stage with a hearty face. The curtain call continued for six times, including the standing ovation.

At the venue representing Japan's theater culture, a special performance is taking place since May to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Les Misérables. As one of the most popular musicals in Japan, Les Misérables has been on stage for over 3,100 times since its first performance in Japan back in 1987. Tickets have been sold out this time as well.

Based on the novel with the same title written by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables touches upon heavy subjects including sin and salvation, revolution and love, and philanthropy by portraying Jean Valjean who was released after 19 years in prison. The song "People's Song" was also widely chanted during the last year's candle light rally in Korea. "Les Misérables has the power to change one's life," Yang said mentioning Les Misérables as his life-changing work. "I am honored and grateful just to be on a stage to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show."

Yang has already played as Jean Valjean in the Japan tour since his visit in 2015. An actor who rose as a musical star with his striking appearance at "The Phantom of Opera," and "Hero" in Korea, he got the role as the French leading character after a lucky opportunity to try out in an audition. Despite his lack of Japanese fluency, his singing and acting skills led the Japanese production team choose him to play the leading role. "I practiced the songs while walking the Mt. Bukhan trails every day for six months before arriving in Japan," he said. "I learnt all the verses by heart and brushed up my Japanese pronunciation for the very first rehearsal to impress the audience with my skills."

His performance was widely acclaimed in Japan as "the best actor to depict the world of Christianity expressed in the work." His endeavor for the work was highly appraised when a fan who watched Les Misérables for three decades was impressed by his performance and thanked him for giving the opportunity to watch the show in fresh perspectives. "My personal religious experience helped me shape the character," Yang said. "As there are not so many Christians in Japan, Japanese actors rarely knew how to grab the Bible or make the sign of the cross."

Backed by his great performance in Japan, he also played the same role in Korea last year. When requested, he is willing to join the band for the 2019 performance in Japan. "When I come across a work that goes well with me, I never get tired no matter how long the plays will run. (After playing Jean Valjean for three years,) I have never felt tired," he said. "There are many students coming in groups at the day performance, so I try to perform my best, as I may be the first Korean they might encounter."

Won-Jae Jang peacechaos@donga.com