Controversy continues over Charlotte theaterThe controversy over the performance of a musical produced by a Japanese company in Seoul’s first purpose-built musical theater, the Charlotte, seems unlikely to end. Korean musical production companies have expressed anger since they heard that Disney’s “The Lion King,” produced by Japan’s Shiki Theatre Company, was selected as the first show at the theater, and Keita Asari, Shiki’s chief executive, recently poured oil on that fire of controversy.
“The musical-purpose theater wouldn’t have been constructed if Shiki didn’t request [that Lotte do so],” Mr. Asari told the Korean press in Yokohama where Shiki invited them to the opening of its training center on July 15. The Charlotte, owned by Lotte Group, is expected to open in October, and “The Lion King” is scheduled to run from Oct. 28 for at least one year.
Mr. Asari denounced as inaccurate a statement by the Korea Association of Performing Arts Producers that Shiki stole Korea’s first purpose-built musical theater, adding that it was he who persuaded the head of Lotte Group, Shin Kyuk-ho, 15 years ago, to build the theater.
“I’ve known Mr. Shin for 35 years,” said Mr. Asari. “When Mr. Shin decided to build a purpose-built musical theater, he put conditions on that: that Shiki should offer a show for its opening and run it for at least the first three years until the theater stabilized,” he added.
This is different from previous explanations from officials of the Charlotte. At the press conference and showcase of “The Lion King,” held in Seoul in June, officials said that there were no other choices good enough for the first show, even though they had examined proposals submitted by Korean musical production companies, adding that it had never considered Shiki the only possible partner. Lotte has invested 45 billion won ($47.3 million) in establishing the Charlotte, which has 1,227 seats over two floors.
At that time, Mr. Asari said that Shiki was entering Korea in order to boost cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan, and to return what his home nation had received culturally from Korea for thousands of years. He also said that Shiki would not take any profits it makes from the Seoul performances to Japan, but would reinvest the money in Korea by establishing a training center to foster actors. He stressed that Charlotte won’t be exclusively used by Shiki.
But at his most recent press conference in Yokohama, Mr. Asari took a different line. He said that Disney doesn’t see Korea as a viable market for musicals.
“Korean producers should take responsibility for such comments,” he said. “I don’t really care about their opposition, but would rather worry about what time we can put the show on the stage.”
“The secret agreement made between Shiki and Lotte has been confirmed,” said Yoon Ho-jin, chairman of the Korea Association of Performing Arts Producers. “We won’t stand for Lotte’s immorality and won’t let Shiki put its show on in Korea.”
Two years ago, Shiki canceled a planned entrance to Korea because of strong opposition from Korean musical companies.
Kim Jung-hyun, a Lotte Group executive who is in charge of Charlotte, said, “It’s true that Mr. Asari and Mr. Shin have known each other for a long time. But it isn’t true that we built the theater only because Shiki requested it.”
“If we did so, we would have quit the plan to build Charlotte two years ago when Shiki announced it would not come to Korea because of the opposition from the Korean musical industry.”
“We had our own plan to build a purpose-built musical theater,” he added.
Mr. Kim said, however, that Lotte hasn’t complained to Shiki about Mr. Asari’s comments because it didn’t deem it necessary.
by Park Sung-ha, Choi Min-woo