중앙데일리

Actor finds his niche as producer

After ‘Nanta’ success ‘Daejanggeum’ is next

Mar 12,2007
Song Seung-whan is arranging the popular TV drama “Daejanggeum” into a musical, which is going to premiere in May. Provided by PMC Production
Son Seung-whan, 50, began his a career as a teen idol in television music programs. Now he specializes in theatrical production. It was he who took Korean productions like the percussion show “Nanta” to foreign markets. Now Mr. Song is adapting the celebrated Korean television drama “Daejanggeum” (‘Jewel in the Palace’) as a musical.
“Daejanggeum” was first aired on MBC in 2003 and later enjoyed huge popularity overseas after it was broadcast in 50 countries including Japan, China and as far afield as Egypt. The drama had 54 episodes, but it will be condensed into a two-and-a-half-hour musical. The musical is a co-production of Mr. Song’s PMC Productions and MBC.
“It is a matter of how to adjust the theme of the drama,” Mr. Song said, explaining how to fit the 54 episodes into two-and-a-half hours. “The main themes in the series were Daejanggeum’s desire to evolve from being a court lady preparing food for the Joseon royal family to being a court doctor and the love triangle involving her, General Min Jeong-ho and King Jungjong. Both of these will remain.”
The musical is being produced for both the domestic and overseas markets. “I hope the musical ‘Daejanggeum’ will help turn the tide in the Korean musical industry, which is now dominated by foreign licensed musicals,” Mr. Song said.
With the international success of the TV drama, many countries have already expressed an interest in staging the musical, but Mr. Song said the production would be limited mostly to Asian countries.
“It is very difficult for a Korean musical, or a Korean-language musical, to succeed in Europe or the United States,” Mr. Song said. “It is difficult to produce a musical that is up to their standards. It requires a formidable investment.”
In addition to the difficulty of producing high-quality musicals, language barriers also exist. “In most English speaking countries, people are not used to reading subtitles [either at a performance or a film],” Mr. Song said. “Besides that, they have plenty of other things to watch in their own language.”
Mr. Song added that it would be possible for Korean musicals to be staged in Europe or the United States, if they are performed by foreign actors in the appropriate local languages.
Because of the language barriers “Nanta” was designed to be entirely non-verbal. The percussion performance has been staged in 180 cities in 50 countries since it premiered in Korea in 1997.
“Nanta” made its international debut in 1999 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it sold out shows in the 350-seat Assembly Theater for the entire run. “This was a big surprise,” said Mr. Song. “Even at such international festivals, non-English language performances were rare.”
The success of “Nanta” in Edinburgh broke the mould for Korean producers. Although PMC Production employees put up posters and distributed press materials about “Nanta” and a number of magazines had feature articles about the festival performances, it was word of mouth among the spectators that was the key of its success,
After the success at the festival, “Nanta” was staged in many countries including Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the Netherlands and Australia.
Eventually “Nanta” made it to New York’s Broadway, premiering at the Minetta Lane Theater on March 7, 2004 and running for one and a half years. It became the first Asian show to open in a Broadway theater.
Once a young celebrity, Mr. Song is now a middle-aged man with a balding head. He started acting as a child and he began working in production when he was 20.
Asked why he turned to production, Mr. Song said, “Being an actor is somewhat passive. One needs to be cast in a show or a TV program to act. I wanted to take the initiative in all areas of a performance. I wanted to produce something of my own. It gives a different sense of achievement.”
The musical “Daejanggeum” will premiere on May 26 at Seoul Arts Center.


By Limb Jae-un Staff Writer [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]




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