A scene from "Moby Dick"
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A piano, wooden boxes, piles of skulls and a ship’s wheel decorate the stage of Space 111 of Doosan Art Center to become Pequod, a whaling ship seeking Moby Dick, with a mast and the moon as the backdrop.
The actors not only sing and dance but they do so to their own musical accompaniment in “Moby Dick,” which began its voyage at the theater on Tuesday.
Based on Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, the musical tells the story of Ahab, captain of the Pequod who is desperate to kill the notorious white whale Moby Dick, through the narration of young sailor Ishmael. Ishmael’s friendship with Queequeg, a brusque but sensitive sailor skilled with the harpoon, is another focus of the musical.
“Moby Dick” is the first musical staged in Korea where the actors play their own instruments while acting, singing and dancing. John Doyle’s productions of “Sweeney Todd” (2005) and “Company” (2006) are considered successful experiments of such shows.
Cho Yong-shin, a musical critic making his directing debut, classified “Moby Dick” as an independent musical, similar to an independent movie, attempting artistic experiment on a budget.
Ishmael (Shin Ji-ho) plays the piano and Queequeg (KoN) plays the violin. Captain Ahab (Hwang Gun) is a cellist while the cello stand doubles as his prosthetic leg. Starbuck (Lee Seung-hyun and Yu Sung-jae), the first mate of the Pequod, play guitar, while the third mate Flask (Cho Sung-hyun and Yu Seung-cheol) play wind instruments such as the clarinet and trumpet. Moby Dick the whale is portrayed by a double bass player (Jang Hyo-jong) wearing a white suit. Sea nymph Nereid (Lee Ji-young) also plays the piano in a blue dress symbolizing the sea.
Some of the actors had experience in theater, while others, including pop pianist Shin and violinist KoN, were just musicians before. They many not shine in singing or acting, but they have another vehicle for expression — their instruments. Composer Chung Yea-kyung came up with melodies that go well with the characters and match each instrument.
Ishmael’s music conveys his dream of becoming a sailor, while Queequeg’s keen and sharp sound portrays his skill with the harpoon. Jazzy, smooth melodies from Ishmael’s piano meet responses by Queequeg’s masculine and carefree violin as they become friends. Nereid’s sweet piano melody seduces and soothes the sailors.
The giant albino whale Moby Dick is expressed through the low, weighty sound of a double bass as the whale-like instrument takes the stage by storm.
The musical also brilliantly incorporates the characteristics of the musical instruments as props. In addition to the cello stand slash artificial leg, the violin bow serves as a harpoon and the clarinet acts as a telescope.
Despite such clever duality, the presentation of “Moby Dick” is still somewhat crude. It needs to better balance the voices of the actors and sound of the instruments and trim some scenes to keep the audience from getting bored during the 110-minute musical.
But the show enriches Korea’s musical scene with its diversity.
The show runs through Aug. 20. Tickets cost 40,000 won. Call (02) 708-5001 or visit www.doosanartcenter.com for more information.