Kiss Me, Kate offers mature love story
By Chung Ah-young
David Swan is a household name among Korean musical fans as he has been directing hit musicals from "Jekyll and Hyde," "Man of La Mancha," "All Shook Up," "My Fair Lady." to the upcoming "Kiss Me, Kate."
His productions are mostly marked with wit and humor in the full localization of the foreign licensed musicals removing cultural barriers. Concerning his successful career here in Korea, Swan's answer is simple and confident.
"The first thing that I was trying to do is that I was trying to make the musical that I want to see and that I think is interesting and exciting for me. I am very self critical. If I can make it likable for me, then usually it's pretty good," Swan said in an interview with The Korea Times.
The American director said that it was possible because, regardless of race and nationality, the emotions people share are almost the same. "I think people feel a lot of the same things and I think the honesty and emotions I work so hard in my shows are relatable although we do have some different experiences and how things are expressed is different," he said.
To better adapt the musicals, he puts more emphasis on the script rather than on literal translations as many foreign musicals and directors do, which fails to capture the point.
"I really try hard to break down the barriers because I am making the show for Korean audiences. So I spend a lot of time with the script. We talk a lot about what it means. We don't have to worry about what it exactly says. This is what translation means. This is the point," said Swan.
"Kiss Me, Kate" is no exception. He is trying to focus on the story. The Broadway musical was first staged in 2001 in Korea and is now awaiting the new touch by Swan.
The American director calls it "a mature love story." Unlike other love stories about when a boy meets a girl, "Kiss Me, Kate" is about two divorced couples who are involved in performing a musical version of "The Taming of the Shrew" in the format of a play within a play.
It portrays people who already know how they feel about each other. "So it's more about how we feel about each other and how we live with each other and how we make sacrifices for each other and how we learn person to person," he said.
Moreover, Swan stressed that it deals with relationships more than it does with first infatuations and romance, combining drama with comical elements.
"The focus of the musical is always the story. I think everything should be related to that (the story) and connected to it. The comedy comes out from honesty of those situations. The drama for the story is all connected. Dancing and everything come out from the story. That's my chief job. As a director, I am the head storyteller," he said.
Based on Shakespeare's work "The Taming of the Shrew" and musical numbers composed by Cole Porter, the musical premiered in 1948 on Broadway and was revived in 1999.
For the upcoming production, the director and the Korean creative team use the updated script and music in a new arrangement.
The musical stars big-name actors such as Nam Kyung-joo, Choi Jung-won and K-pop diva Ivy (real name Park Eun-hye). Nam and Choi performed together back in the 2001 production.
"Every actor has unique experiences and unique talents. My job is to help bring out the best. Jung-won and Kyung-joo are very experienced and they are just pros. They are understanding things quickly. Eun-hye is an amazing performer. She shines on stage. A lot of inexperienced actors have to worry about confidence and how they look on stage. She doesn't have to do that. So she has so many advantages," he said.
Swan came to Korea as a guest director in 2004. Since that time, he found the progress of the musicals both in quality and quantity has been fast.
"Jung-won was certainly very talented also in 2004 but now these days there are more actresses who come closer to her. And the ensemble quality (has progressed) as well," he said.
In the United States, there are different levels of musical theater from high school, community and lower professional to the top on Broadway. "But in Korea, you can have maybe Broadway-level actors with people who are doing their first show for the first time. Within one show, you have an amazing range of experience, quality and talent but the whole level has been raised. I think it's very exciting to see. It's been an honor to be part of that not only to watch as an outsider but also to watch it as an insider," he said.
He also added that he loves to work in Korea as it has both passion and talent "There is still love and hunger and drive for making musicals. That's why I keep coming because I like the people, I like the energy and I like the passion," he said.