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What’s the next step for musical producers? Unite

Feb 12,2006

“Go! Waikiki Brothers,” a Korean musical that will run next month. Provided by the organizers

Given the stunning rise of musicals as a form of popular entertainment, it’s no surprise that musical drama producers have banded together to form an industry union. The only surprise is that it took so long for them to do so.
Consider the big-name musical productions, both domestic and foreign, that have stormed through Seoul over the last year, or are on the horizon: “Stomp,” a British production; “Rent,” “Grease” and “West Side Story,” from Broadway; “Notre Dame de Paris” and “Les DIX Commandements,” from France, and “Go! Waikiki Brothers,” a Korean production. Then there’s the licensed shows: “The Producers,” “Jeckyll & Hyde,” “Aida,” “Dracula” and “Le Passe-Muraille.”
Spurred by the public’s sudden embrace of musicals, production companies are preparing to announce the formation of the Korean Musical Association later this month. The association’s goals include better industry-wide organization, greater political leverage and more systematic training of musical actors.
But one of the most urgent issues, said Nam Ki-woong, the president of Moa Entertainment and one of the organizers of the association, is building a theater big enough to meet the audience demand. With the number of total theater-goers last year surging over 1 million, the number of show theaters and seating room are definitely issues.

A scene from “Les DIX Commandements,” a French musical that will come to Seoul in April. Provided by the organizers

Broadway or the West End, for instance, have 40 to 50 theaters built for musicals, with as few as 500 seats or as many as 2,350 seats each. Seoul’s Daehangno area, in contrast, has a handful of theaters for stage plays with a seating capacity of around 200. Bigger productions have had to set up shop in places like the Seoul Arts Center, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts or even in gymnasiums in Olympic Park. The venues may be capable of seating thousands, but they’re hardly ideal for musical performances.
The producers of “Rent” found that out last month, when they staged the drama at Olympic Hall, in Olympic Park. The seating area was vast, but the performance suffered as a result; the production company refused to reveal the number of tickets sold. The number is said to have been very low.
In order to exploit the potential of domestic productions, Mr. Nam added, professional musical actors have to be trained in large numbers. There have been positive signs that Korean dramas can do well abroad. “Go! Waikiki Brothers” attracted 4,000 people during its four performances at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles last August (the theater has a capacity of 1,200). The Korean version of “Jekyll & Hyde,” starring Jo Seung-woo, will run in Japan next month.
One thing the association won’t have to worry about is a lack of public interest: The lust for musicals here shows no signs of dying down. Won Jong-won, a show critic and a professor at Soonchunhyang University, said the growth of the economy has led to an influx of cultural spending, and that culturally, Koreans prefer their dramas to carry a tune.
“Koreans like to tell stories with music,” Mr. Won said. “You can track that tendency down from chang (a Korean form of aria singing), pansori (singing accompanied by a drum) and mask dances. That tendency was revealed by [the country’s] economic growth.”
Korea’s hunger for productions has dovetailed with foreign producers’ needs for supplementary audiences.
“Although foreign productions have high-quality performances, their profits are limited as long as they stay in their own country,” Mr. Won said. “They have thus looked around the world for new markets, and their tours and licenses have branched out to Asia.”


by Park Sung-ha


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