Musicals displaying domestic flair
‘Goddess’ latest Korean show to challenge dominance of imports
While it’s been globally popular imports “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Jekyll and Hyde” that have been dominating Korea’s fast growing market for musicals, a new generation of Korean thespians are beginning to command respect.
“The Goddess Is Watching,” which opened last month at the Chungmu Art Hall in central Seoul, is the latest locally produced musical that is challenging the big titles from America and Europe.
As with many other works, the creators of “Goddess” benefited from a number of private and public programs to foster local theatrical talent, develop a stable market for them and inject the musical scene with creative input. The quality and execution of this musical comedy suggest that the plans are working as prescribed.
“Goddess” revolves around the story of six soldiers — two from South Korea and four from the North — who are stranded on a deserted island after a shipwreck during the Korean War (1950-53). The two South Korean soldiers had been escorting the North Korean soldiers who were captured as prisoners of war, but their relationship is obviously reversed in this isolated environment.
To survive and escape from the island, they have to work together to repair the ship. Too bad North Korean marine and expert sailor Sun-ho is mentally unstable after witnessing his brother being shot to death in an attempt to save him.
This has South Korean Captain Yeong-beom coming up with the story of an imaginary goddess who appears from nowhere to look after the group and Sun-ho, in the state he is, falls for it.
As the other soldiers pretend they have seen the goddess to keep Sun-ho in line and set up behavior codes like “no swearing” and “sharing food,” as ordered by their imaginary goddess, they find their lives on the island becoming a lot more tolerable.
Written by Han Jung-suk and with the score composed by Lee Sun-young, both 30-year-olds, the musical was one of the amateur works picked up by CJ Creative Minds, a program backed by the CJ Culture Foundation, in 2011. Director Park So-young and actor Choi Sung-won, who plays the role of playful soldier Seok-gu, got involved early in the development phase.
The creators of “Goddess” began collaborating with veteran theatrical group, Theater Yeonwoo Company, in August last year to produce a showcase version of the musical at Yegreen Encore, an open audition for young musical artists run by the Korea Musical Theater Association and Chungmu Art Hall.
The work was impressive enough to top the competition and win 100 million won in funding. And after some fine-tuning on the script and songs, “Goddess” is now garnering an audience at Chungmu Art Hall.
The strength of it seems to be the songs, which successfully portray diverse emotions and slide smoothly between playfulness and intensity, just as required by the plot that shows the relationship between the soldiers developing from confrontation to harmony.
CJ Creative Minds has been running for three years and is now garnering success.
The musical “Moby Dick,” which was the first to benefit from the program in 2010, was successfully staged in 2011 and 2012, and “Poongwallju” was picked up by CJ E&M to become a commercial production in 2012.
Doosan Art Center also offers Doosan Art Lab for creators to experiment on new ideas. Set designer Yeo Shin-dong made his debut as a director with an interdisciplinary performance “Savoy Sauna” and Lee Yu-jin and Kim A-ram presented a musical play incorporating Korean literature works such as Park Wan-suh’s “Twilight” and Hwang Sun-won’s “Rain Shower.”
There are many homegrown shows here, but most of them are led by theatrical companies and creators are hired by the production company.
Support programs such as CJ Creative Minds provide chances for newcomer composers and writers to develop their own works step by step and nurtures young artists who will lead the future of the theater industry.
“The Goddess Is Watching” runs through March 10. Tickets cost 45,000 won. For more information, call (02) 744-7090 or visit www.cmah.or.kr.