[FOUNTAIN]Musicals now and foreverIn 1991, four years after a ban on his songs was lifted, Kim Min-ki built the Hakjeon Theater near Daehangno. To raise money for its construction, he released a CD of his songs. For him, it was a thing of great pain.
Mr. Kim wrote the songs “Ahchim Iseul,” “Chingu” and “Jageun Yeonmot,” which Yang Hee-eun sang in the 1970s. They were classified as “movement songs,” being deeply related to his memories of prison and torture. Recording the songs was like revealing his innermost privacy to the public. Nobody wants to stand naked in broad daylight, but he chose to do so, in order to fulfill his life-long dream; staging a musical that would appeal to the whole world.
A year later, he was looking for something to shout to the world and came across “Linie 1,” by the German troupe GRIPS, on a videotape at the Goethe Institute in Seoul. In the musical, created by an artistic dreamer named Hans Kippenberger, the “Metronet,” imaginary subway stations which connect people from all over with their own joys and sorrows, melted within it. Mr. Kim did not hesitate to make “Subway Line 1” the debut performance at the Hakjeon Theater. Mr. Kim did everything: directing, arranging, writing songs and even casting. The members underwent harsh training. All performances demand discipline from their performers, but few were as demanding as Mr. Kim. One of the first actors, Na Yoon-sun, said, “I thought we wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone perform, on the first run.”
On May 14, 1994 the curtains rose. The nine actors came together like interlocking cogs. The five-member band performed folk, rap, reggae and rock music. The play’s sarcasm and wit took the audience’s breath away. The stage seemed to burst with energy instead of clunk about awkwardly. The theater was first empty, but soon began to fill with people. A couple of years later, a theater was built specifically for “Subway Line 1.” The troupe also performed in Beijing, Berlin and Osaka. The original writer, Volker Ludwig, said the Korean version was better than his. Yu Hua, a Chinese writer, praised the musical saying, “It is the essence of the Korean Wave.”
Today, the musical will perform its 3,000th show. Over 600,000 people have seen it over 12 years and the play has earned $1.2 million dollars. The musical set a Korean record for the longest-running performance. It has a long way to go compared with the musical “Cats,” which set the Broadway record with 7,485 performances over 18 years and 50 million viewers, earning $2.2 billion dollars. “Cats, Now & Forever,” started at a shabby theater in London. We wish for another 3,000 shows of “Subway Line 1,” now and forever.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.