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Musicals Are Korean Theatre Phenomenon

Posted December. 03, 2005 04:48,   


“The Producers,” a Broadway-licensed musical, will be performed in the main hall of the National Theater of Korea (NTOK), starting on January 15. Four days later, performances of “Notre Dame de Paris” will start. Beginning on January 25, “Jekyll & Hyde,” another licensed musical, will be performed at the Opera House of Seoul Arts Center (SAC).

Musicals account for a large proportion of performances that will be held within major theaters in Seoul next year. The number of performing days of musicals represent as much as 44 percent of the total performing days.

Despite its name, the Opera House of the SAC is expected to spend more days on musicals than operas in the first half of next year. While scheduled to perform operas for just 12 days, it allocated 137 days for musicals.

The NTOK Also Increases its Musical Performing Days-

Including “The Winter Wanderer” which is currently being performed, four musicals have been performed in the main hall of the NTOK this year. The theatre spent 134 days, more than four months, playing musicals. Next year, it plans to play seven musicals for 161 days, starting with “The Producers,” allotting about 30 additional days for musicals than this year.

Play and Dance Performances are Marginalized-

As musicals “monopolize” theaters, there are complaining voices from other genres of performing arts.

That is because other genres, including dance performances and plays, are having a difficult time finding theaters.

The case in point is the cancellation of the “World Ballet Star Gala,” a biennale held by World Dance Alliance’s Korean Chapter. The performance, featuring ballet stars from across the world, including Russia, Germany and France, was held in July every two years from 2000 in the Opera House of the SAC. But a 2006 performance was effectively canceled. Although the organizing committee applied to book a theater for the SAC early this year, one year prior to the planned performance, the SAC rejected the application, saying that the theater had already been allocated for a musical planned by the SAC.

Setting aside corporations like LG Arts Center, some in the industry are critical of theaters with public functions for performing commercial musicals. The theaters under criticism include the NTOK, the SAC which is a foundation supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts which receives assistance from the Seoul city government.

In particular, industry insiders are critical of the NTOK, which receives its entire budget from the government.

A planner of a theater said, “Other than newly written musicals or experimental or quality overseas musicals, commercial Broadway licenses are for private theaters not the NTOK,” criticizing, “It seems that the NTOK intends to easily increase audience numbers with commercial musicals.”

Sue-Jean Kang Seung-Hoon Cheon sjkang@donga.com raphy@donga.com