This time, two heros are better than oneThere are less than two weeks left to catch the musical “Hero,” a national hit that gained momentum after its presentation in New York last year. With its rich musical score, extravagant set and broad outline of an important event in Korean history, the musical is well worth seeing, though it is not, unfortunately, without problems.
The musical was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of independence activist Ahn Jung-geun’s (1879-1910) assassination of Hirobumi Ito, the resident general of Japan’s colonial government in Korea, at Harbin train station in Manchuria on Oct. 26, 1909.
It premiered in Korea in fall 2009 before being refitted for its New York premiere at the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in August 2011. It had a month-long run at the National Theater of Korea earlier this month before its current revival, which continues at Seoul Arts Center until Feb. 5.
Although the title originally referred to Ahn, this new version introduces more than one hero.
Jung Sun-young of Acom International, which produced the musical, said that with the revision, the creative team was looking to create a more balanced production that would play better with Western audiences.
“We also wanted to test ourselves to see where we stand in the global musical industry,” Jung said.
In this new version, the musical juxtaposes Ahn’s attempt to save his country from Japanese colonization and Ito’s desire to save his country from the encroaching Western influence spreading throughout Asia.
Yet it is hard to find a hero in either character. Neither one is developed enough to earn our sympathies for his actions.
Part of the problem is with the structure and pacing of the musical as a whole. The show plays out like a history book ticking off a long list of events with notable characters and remarkable incidents inserted for dramatic effect.
With Ahn’s character, we never see enough of who he is to tell us what motivated him to give his life for his country’s independence (Ahn was later hanged for the murder of Ito). Although we are told of Japan’s impending colonization of Korea, we don’t ever get a sense of Ahn’s place in it all. He comes off as flat and his passion unbelievable.
The same goes for Ito. We don’t really get a sense of how he felt about Korea, though history tells us that he opposed Japan’s colonization of the country and didn’t want to infringe on the rights of Koreans for his country’s benefit. His character would have been more convincing had we seen more of this inner conflict.
Context is also a problem. While it is difficult to condense these events, much less repackage them in musical form, the lack of hisotrical information proves to be a barrier rather than the subtle backdrop it should be.
Yet although the production ends up coming off as didactic, the juxtaposition of the two heros is effective. And this version is more likely to draw international audiences than the original, which was very one-sided and nationalistic.
In the end, what is compelling about “Hero” is the parallel between two characters fighting to save their countries from domination.
“Hero” runs through Feb. 5 at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater. Performances start at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 3 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from 40,000 won to 120,000. Go to Nambu Bus Terminal Station, line No. 3, exit 5. For more information, visit www.sac.or.kr or call (02) 2250-5900.
By Lee Sun-min [firstname.lastname@example.org]