Dream on: New take on musical fun, but a bit dry

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Dream on: New take on musical fun, but a bit dry

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Left to right: Park Eun-mi, Kim So-hyang and Hong Ji-min are the Dreams in “Dreamgirls.”

For years now, Korea has shown its love for musical theater time and again, hosting local productions of Broadway shows and even non-verbal offshoots such as “Nanta” that have become international tourist attractions.

But “Dreamgirls,” now running at the Charlotte Theater near Lotte World, is in a category all its own. It’s an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. But it’s also original, a reimagining for the Seoul stage that the producers hope to export across Asia and maybe even back to the United States.

That last goal is a bit too ambitious, since the production doesn’t have nearly the oomph that American audiences have come to expect from a glitzy musical. The choreography in particular is ho-hum, with the nadir coming when the chorus pretends to play fake instruments.

But Dreamgirls is a lot of fun, mostly thanks to two charismatic and well-sung performances by Hong Ji-min as spurned lead singer Effie and Choi Min-cheol as R&B superstar James Early.

Like its producers, the characters in Dreamgirls hope to hit it big, as the group of three friends - loosely based on The Supremes - step on stage at the Apollo Theater to try to get noticed. When Early (based on James Brown) picks them up as his backup singers, it’s the beginning of a long ride to stardom, with broken friendships and passionate love affairs along the way. At least, the love is supposed to be passionate - the villainous manager Curtis (Oh Man-seok) is as menacing as a high school kid wearing his first suit and trying to look serious.

The sets are sparse for such a flashy show, but four huge, vertical LED panels that cover the entire stage and are capable of rotating are an innovative and entertaining solution.

My father saw the show with me on his first trip to this country. He mused that perhaps it speaks to the Korean soul because it’s about pursuing one’s aspirations and continuing to strive even after you’ve been struck down. That’s why I know that even if this attempt fails, Korean musical theater will get another shot at global fame. I can’t wait.

“Dreamgirls” runs until Aug. 9 at the Charlotte Theater near Jamsil Station, line No. 2, exit 3. For details, see http://charlottetheater.co.kr.

By Ben Applegate [bapplegate@gmail.com]

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