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Helen Park becomes 1st Asian woman to be nominated for Tony

Helen Park becomes 1st Asian woman to be nominated for Tony

Posted May. 05, 2023 07:58,   

Updated May. 05, 2023 07:58


Helen Park has become the first Asian woman to be nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical, the U.S. musical theater’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. In an interview on Wednesday, the 37-year-old composer said it feels like “an encouragement for Koreans to be brave and tell Korean stories.”

Park was nominated for Best Musical with co-composer Max Vernon for their Broadway musical “KPop: The Musical,” which is the first Broadway production to feature K-pop. It opened off-Broadway to critical and audience acclaim. However, it had a disappointing end to its Broadway run late last year, closing after just two weeks of regular performances. Despite the short run, she placed her name as a nominee for her musicality, and as the first Asian woman to be nominated, American media such as the New York Times paid attention to her nomination.

“Even if the show ended early, it doesn’t mean the work is over and it gives me hope that I can continue. I feel like I’ve been recognized for eight years of hard work,” said Park. An album for “KPop: The Musical” is also in the works.

Park’s path to Broadway as a songwriter has taken many twists and turns. The opportunities are few and far between, and the field is dominated by white, male, established musicians. “It’s always been a dream since I was introduced to musicals in sixth grade, but I never thought I’d actually be able to perform on Broadway,” Park said.

After graduating from New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Park emailed famous composers on a whim, asking for an opportunity to work as an assistant. Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt replied, and she got a chance to work on Broadway. In 2014, Park was approached by Vernon, an NYU classmate, to work on “KPop: The Musical.”

Park’s other work includes serving as the lead musical director for the English-American TV animation of “Isadora Moon,” a popular children’s book around the world. “I’m going to make music that is honest, but also incorporates identity and experience,” she said.

Hyoun-Soo Kim kimhs@donga.com