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Creative musical ‘Bappeo’

Posted August. 06, 2013 07:17,   


Musicals have taken the center stage among various forms of performing arts in Korea these days. Apart from musical works based on foreign stories for which domestic producers pay huge sums of royalty, about 120 new creative musicals performed by Korean theatrical actors and actresses are being put on stage each year. The Korean musical sector is even comparable in productivity to the Korean movie industry that is doing quite well. Last year alone, 175 Korean movies were released. Though Japan’s musical market is more than twice the size of Korea’s, most of the works in Japan are filled with foreign stories. This amazing fever to produce new creative works in Korea is giving a big boost to hallyu, or poplar Korean pop culture, in the musical sector.

This writer watched “Bappeo” performed by the Seoul Metropolitan Musical Theater (headed by producer Yoo In-taek) last week. The musical is a love story of pastor Choi Il-do and his wife Kim Yeon-soo, and their free meal service for the underprivileged at Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul. The musical was truly appealing as it is based on a true story, not a fiction, and singing of the actors and actresses including Kang Pil-seok and Kang Seong-yeon was also outstanding. For Korean musicals to win recognition overseas, they should, more than anything, secure many performers who have competitive singing skills. As musicals gain popularity and demonstrate their commercial viability, talented art performers are flocking to the sector, creating a virtuous cycle.

The producers of “Bappeo” picked the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts with more than 3,000 seats as the stage for the show, apparently reflecting their plans to advance to foreign markets with high expectations. The troupe under the Seoul Metropolitan City, which can afford to be easygoing, has made efforts and attempts to overcome its limitations, which is commendable. However, stage facilities and some scenes in the musical presented the sense of déjà vu, rendering viewers feel like they had watched in other imported musical works. The storyline of Bappeo also seemed to fail to effectively convey the heartwarming life of Pastor Choi and his wife.

The musical “Phantom of the Opera” has earned a cumulative total of 5.6 billion U.S. dollars since its first performance in 1986. By continuously raking in income through prolonged duration of staging, musicals have generated economic effect that overwhelms other genres of performing arts, including movies, TV dramas and pop music. Public perception that musical is a high-end culture is also widely spread. Nevertheless, creative musicals have a high barrier to overcome to achieve success. They should provide charms that exceed those of successful musicals of the past, which are imprinted in the mind of many audiences. As is the case for all other genres of arts, musicals can be perfected through countless trials and improvements. The musical Bappeo will also be able to consolidate its stature as a flagship musical of Seoul Metropolitan City after going through such process.

Senior Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)