By Kwon Mee-yoo
The musical “The Count of Monte Cristo” has returned to the stage with the top musical actors from last year’s production and a strengthened story emphasizing the Count’s revenge.
The curtain went up here on March 1 on the musical based on Alexandre Dumas’s 19th-century novel of the same name at the Grand Theater of Chungmu Art Hall in central Seoul.
Edmond Dantes, a sailor of Marseilles promoted to captain, is sent to a prison on an isolated island through the actions of three conspirators during his engagement party — his friend Mondego, who loves Dantes’ fiancee Mercedes, Danglars, a junior officer on Dante’s ship who is jealous of him, and Villefort, an ambitious prosecutor from Marseilles.
During his time in prison, Dantes learns philosophy, languages, mathematics and more from a priest Abbe Faria and escapes from jail, reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo.
He finds hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo and seeks revenge on those who took everything from him.
Shin Sung-rok, an avid actor on both the small screen and stage, plays the innocent sailor who turns into the vindictive Count.
Frank Wildhorn, the composer of Korean favorite “Jekyll and Hyde,” wrote “Hell to Your Doorstep” for the vengeful Count, expressing the exploding anger. Though exerting himself to sing the high notes, Shin’s Count is seen as keen in seeking revenge and tearful when forgiving his foes.
Cha Ji-yeon, who played Effie in the Korean rendition of “Dream Girls” in 2009, plays Mercedes, a soft but strong woman. In the first act, Cha’s Mercedes is a frail fiancee of Dantes, who marries Mondego when she hears Dante has died in prison. In the later scenes Mercedes becomes a beautiful, yet strong mother dedicated to her son Albert.
When Cha sings “All This Time” in the second act, a number when Mercedes looks back on love and remorse, she steals the limelight. The theater is filled with her powerful voice expressing the sorrow of her irrevocable love.
Choi Min-chul’s charismatic Mondego sometimes overwhelms Shin’s count.
Most of last year’s cast has returned, including Shin as the Count and Cha as Mercedes, as well as Ryu Jung-han and Um Ki-joon as the Count and Ock Joo-hyun as Mercedes. Choi Hyun-joo, the diva of “The Phantom of the Opera” joins the star-studded cast to alternate in the role of Mercedes.
The musical premiered in Switzerland in 2009 and was a big hit in Korea last year. Robert Johanson, the director of a Korean working of “Hamlet” and last year’s “The Count of Monte Cristo,” again leads the production.
Resident director Park In-seon, who was invited to the New York Musical Theatre Festival last year with his work “Special Letter,” made trips between Korea and the U.S. to discuss the revamped piece.
To add more dynamicity to the Count’s vengeance, they added a reprise of the song “A Story Told,” which was originally sung by the three betrayers, justifying Dantes’ imprisonment, after the revenge.
Miko Simmons, the projections designer, came up with more detailed efforts this time.
The musical is an interesting combination of projected images and live action. The scene when Edmond escapes from a sack in the sea is presented by the actor climbing up a wire on stage with a projection showing beneath the sea.
The musical runs through April 24. Tickets cost from 50,000 to 120,000 won. English booking is available at ticket.interpark.com/global. Call (02) 6391-6332 for more information.