Insuni Struts Her Stuff in 'Chicago' Production

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Insuni Struts Her Stuff in 'Chicago' Production

Perhaps surprisingly for a singer who refuses to conform to pop song norms, Insuni has been dubbed the "people's musician" in Korea. Despite the difficulty in categorizing her, her edgy tunes have won her a fan base that ranges from kindergarten kids to a 70-year-old Catholic bishop. This charismatic female pop vocalist will star in the upcoming musical "Chicago."

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition, she said everything in her life comes down to "defiance." She said music was her strategy for translating thoughts into actions. For example, Insuni won a Citizen's Award in 1997 for her fundraising performances for homeless children.

Her life itself is proof of her defiant, tough character. Born of a Korean mother and an American soldier serving in Korea, she grew up without knowing who her father was. Her adolescence was marred by prejudice surrounding her physical appearance.

That was then. Now people are more concerned with her identity as a performer.

"I took the role because I knew it was going to be a challenge," said the 41-year-old musician of her role as Velma Kelly in "Chicago." The challenge led Insuni to turn down numerous lucrative offers to perform at Christmas dinner shows hosted by top-notch Seoul hotels, though such events are rare opportunities for musicians like her to earn extra money. She said she just couldn't resist working in a different field.

This will be her first appearance in a musical, but she said the specific genre didn't play a big part in her decision. She just wanted to try something new.

Written by Bob Fosse, well known for his Broadway musicals, "Chicago" suffuses the stage with hot 1920s jazz and cold-blooded intent. Insuni plays one of five women in Cook County Jail for murder; in her case, for shooting her sister and lover after finding them in bed together.

Her rival, Roxie Hart, played by Choi Jung-won, is an opportunist who says she'll help Velma get into the papers as part of a strategy to buy public sympathy and perhaps regain her freedom. Instead, Roxie steals Velma's experienced lawyer and tries to get on the front page herself.

After the musical met with a disappointing response when it was first staged in 1975, Bob Fosse is said to have inspired the dispirited cast by evoking a theme of the play, the media conspiracy that works to produce heroes and then demote them at its whim. Insuni said this aspect of the musical struck her when she considered celebrity-obsessed Korean show business. But, she said, the musical is not all serious. "Everything in it is based on humor."

Though she finds acting enjoyable, she said, she also finds it very challenging.

"Singing is also a kind of acting, except that a song only lasts three minutes," she said. "In musicals, you have to hold that same emotional intensity for more than two hours. I find that very draining."

And dancing?

"When I debuted, which was in the late 70s, dancing was not an option. If you were a singer, you also had to be a dancer. Also, back then, television producers asked you to sing other people's songs. They would give you themes for the program of that day, and you had to come up with your own improvisation. So dancing has inevitably been part of my musical career."

"But yes, I do like dancing," she added.

After becoming a mother, she said, her purpose in life changed. Instead of being interested in her popularity, she says she feels more strongly about making the world safer for her seven-year-old daughter, Se-in.

Her honorable intentions seemed genuine enough - but as soon as the interview was over, she became a different person. She changed her wardrobe, and her offstage personality, and strode into rehearsal. She strutted toward the spotlighted mirror on the stage and started singing in her husky voice. It was "All That Jazz": "Start the car now, I know a whoopie spot where the gin is cold but the piano's hot. It's just a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl and all that jazz."

Insuni is irresistible.

Produced by the Sincee Musical Company, which also staged "Rent" and "Life," the performance in Seoul kicks off on Friday at the Sejong Cultural Center. For ticket information contact 02-1588-7890.

by Park Soo-mee

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