Don Quixote eager to enter Broadway
This is the first in a series of interviews of heads of Korea’s top theatrical companies. — ED.
By Kwon Mee-yoo
“Jekyll and Hyde” is one of the most popular musicals in Korea, drawing more than 620,000 people as of May. Don Quixote of the musical “Man of La Mancha” is one of the most sought-after roles among male musical actors. The musical “Grease” has been a nest for aspiring actors, nurturing top performers such as Oh Man-seok, Um Ki-joon and Kang Ji-hwan. In 2009, a revival of the musical “Dreamgirls” premiered in Korea, with state-of-the-art LED panels depicting the backdrop of the legendary Apollo Theater and also the airport where the Dreamgirls held a press conference.
All these musicals are produced by OD Musical Company led by Shin Chun-soo, 44. He is a man not afraid of challenge, just like Don Quixote. The company name OD stands for “Open the Door” and also is pronounced the same as mulberry in Korean. “The name first started with mulberry which is nourishing and healthy and I came up with the English meaning later,” Shin said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Shin graduated from the Department of Film at Seoul Institute of the Arts and worked as an assistant director for the 1989 movie “A Sketch of a Rainy Day.”
"I thought of the musical as a stage for becoming a movie director then. However, I was lucky that I entered into the musical business in a time of change. It was the time when now-disbanded Samsung Entertainment Group started planning performances in a systematic way,” Shin said. “Before that time, planning was considered as work for those who couldn’t be actors. However, I went
right into planning department without putting up posters at Daehangno.”
He said he was able to think outside the box since he had little experiences in theater. “No one taught me how to produce musicals, but I was able to stage shows learning through trial and error,” Shin said.
Life of a producer
Though OD Musical Company is known for licensed musicals, Shin began with the homegrown “Hello Beatles” in 1999. Though it was not very successful, Shin fell for the joy of staging performances he wanted to.
“I think the producer’s role is finding a good creative team for a show. I have to find the proper director, musical director, choreographer, and scene and costume designers who match the piece,” he said.
As he developed a taste for musicals, Shin introduced many masterpieces to Korean audiences, including “The King and I,” “Crazy for You,” “Assassins” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“I was eager to let the Korean audience know about the variety of musicals, despite difficulties in marketing them,” he said.
He admitted that he was more of a dreamer than a producer in the early days. “I wanted to stamp my name as a producer even if the musical failed financially. Such thoughts were dangerous for a producer,” he said.
Those experiences served as a foundation and OD has produced many successful productions in Korea such as “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Grease.” “I don’t consider them as a success, but a part of a process for me in the big picture,” Shin said.
His “big picture” would be a world-reputed producer like Cameron Mackintosh. “Dreamgirls” in 2009 was a breakthrough for Shin, which he made in cooperation with crewmembers from Broadway.
“I contacted John Breglio and told him I wanted to make a brand-new production of ‘Dreamgirls’ with new technology, characters and the song ‘Listen,’” he said.
The production premiered in Seoul and moved to the United States, aiming to enter Broadway after touring there. However, it never made it, being cancelled during the tour.
“I paid a lot for the production, but it was worth the high cost — I created networks with producers across the globe,” Shin said. “I now have credit in Broadway and it has made my dream come much closer to reality.”
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the company, OD Musical Company has several ongoing projects.
First, Shin co-produced the musical “Doctor Zhivago,” which had its debut in Australia in February. “The show received rave reviews in Sydney and British producers were interested in it,” he said. “It was the largest production I have worked on and I was thrilled to review the book and music of such a great musical during the process.”
Shin has the rights for production in Asia and the musical will tour Korea in early 2012. “Asia is a growing market in the musical industry and it has created a new business,” he said. “As I know this market better than Western producers, I will take care of it.”
Shin is also working on “Pop!” (working title), a musical based on the hit Korean movie “Scandal Makers” (2008).
OD staged two homegrown musicals in 2009 — “Wedding Fund” and “My Sweet Seoul” — but both of them were unsuccessful. “They were more of a workshop than an end product as a musical. ‘Pop!’ is different. It is aiming for Broadway from the beginning,” Shin said.
The musical went through a reading and workshop in the U.S. and is expecting to be performed in Korea next year as a tryout. Shin is working with composer Neil Bartram and writer Brian Hill, the creators of OD’s “The Story of My Life.”
“We kept the basic framework of the movie — the growth of a man and the importance of family, but altered details according to cultural differences.”
For instance, the protagonist was a radio DJ in the Korean movie, but will be a television host in the musical as radio is not popular nationwide in the States.
“Family and growth is a universal sentiment and I am sure that funny and moving scenes of the movies will be transferred to the stage,” he said.
Though Shin is working with foreign creators for “Pop!” now, he wants to bring in Korean composers and writers as well.
“For a producer, nationality doesn’t matter in managing a good creative team since musicals are global. I want to raise young creators in Korea right now, but I think an established Korean producer on Broadway would make the job much easier,” he said.
The company is also staging three two-person shows this year.
“Yes, there is a reason why I chose to present two-person shows. Two is the minimum unit of communication and I want to show the basics of the stage with just two actors,” he said. “Though musicals have become industrialized and large scale, I wanted to bring back the affection for the theater we might have forgotten over the last decade.”
One of Shin’s longtime dreams has come true as he recently debuted as a movie director. His first movie “The Story of My Life” will be released on Thursday.
He seems like a very successful person — the producer of many hit musicals and now a movie director. However, the movie conveys a different message — success is not everything.
“I am an impromptu, sentimental man. I was exhausted last year when I was producing and directing the musical ‘The Story of My Life,’” Shin said. “First it was planned as a documentary, filming the process of musical making. However, I changed my mind and wrote a script similar to the story of the musical.”
Though he is not satisfied with the first step, he will continue directing movies. “For me, a musical is a challenge, but a movie is a dream,” he said.
Shin wants to nurture OD as a comprehensive content company like the Walt Disney Company.
“There are no borders in fun, entertaining content. I want OD to be more than a theatrical producing company and create interesting content.” Shin said. “As a process, I want to give up my position as CEO and focus on producing and directing gradually. I will focus on what I like most and what I can do best.”