‘Aida’ reaping rewards for its risksMusicals are all the rage these days, and the big daddy of them all is “Aida,” the Disney-produced mega-musical that has broken Korean records for production costs and for reserved stage time (8 months, one of which has passed so far). The show’s big plans are reaping big rewards, with a reservation rate of 90 percent.
So what’s the secret to Aida’s success?
In large part, the simple plot and lavish stage and prop design characteristic of Disney musicals accounts for the play’s international appeal. Yet in Korea the production offers another lure: star power. Ok Ju-yeon, who became famous as a member of the saccharine girl K-pop group Fin.KL (it’s supposed to stand for “Fine Killing Liberty,” whatever that means) alternates as the lead role.
The Korean production of Aida uses double-casting, which means that the same roles are alternately performed by two different actors. Double-casting makes things more difficult ― supporting actors and actresses must work harder to accomodate the needs of two stars ― but allows stars to take roles they would otherwise be too busy to play. Such was the case with Ms. Ok. The Seensee music company producing the play was concerned that she might not have the requisite experience to handle the play and that taking on the role might interfere with her hectic radio schedule. Korea is the only country in which Aida’s lead roles have been double-cast, not just for Ms. Ok but for the other two major characters as well.
Despite the concerns, Ms. Ok was eager to take to the stage. She was not hand-picked, either. She performed at the auditions, where the play’s director, Park Myeong-seong, didn’t even know she was famous. She passed each of the four auditions, all of which were highly competitive. Even still, Disney was reluctant to sign her, fearing that her management company would try to interfere with the play’s production. Disney didn’t pay for the production, but provided sets and staff members, and licenced the play.
“I’m not here to try my luck at this role,” Ms. Ok reportedly responded during a final interview with the producers. “I am here to take my first step towards a career as a musical performer.” She promised that if she were selected, she would not have any television appearances during the production schedule and would do only her radio program in addition to rehearsing.
Ms. Ok plays the princess Amneris who must compete for the love of a valiant Egyptian warrior. The role requires 18 costume changes, nine make-up changes, and seven different wigs. Bae Hae-sun, the other actress to play the role, said, “When I put on the seven-kilogram (15 pounds) cat hat, I feel like I’m putting on an enormous rock. When I take off my makeup at the end of the day, it hurts so much that I have a hard time falling asleep.”
All those costumes aren’t cheap, either. The single most expensive costume piece, ironically a “tattered cloak,” costs a little over $9,500. The cloak is hand-made, with silk and embroidery decorations. Aida has a costume team of 14 people who must hand-wash and iron all of the 300 costumes before every performance.
For such a long run, Aida was rehearsed in a very short time: only seven weeks. Rehearsals started at 10 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. Every cast member had to practice singing, dancing and acting individually for two hours a day. The last three weeks had to be spent putting together each actor’s scene into a unified whole.
But behind the acting was an elite stage team with state-of-the-art techniques to take care of the show’s famously tricky lighting and stage art. The second and third floors of the stage, for example, have moving lights that give the entire theater a sense of movement. Special effects are also used to make the two-dimensional backdrop look three-dimensional. The team went so far as to make an enormous drawing of a pool, then attach wires to actors and hoist them up level to the drawing to simulate a horizon’s vanishing point.
by Choi Min-woo