‘Woyzeck,’ the musical, to premier in October

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‘Woyzeck,’ the musical, to premier in October


Musical actress Kim So-hyang sings “If You Love Me,” from the upcoming musical “Woyzeck,” at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul prior to its premier in October. Provided by LG Arts Center

Do musicals always have to be showy and comical? Veteran musical director Yun Ho-jin, 65, who is known for creating hit Korean musicals like “The Last Empress,” “Wandeuk” and “Hero,” says “it doesn’t have to be.”

Often referred to as “the godfather” of Korean musicals, Yun loves challenges. Last year, he jumped into producing changgeuk, a Korean opera performed with pansori-style narrative singing, in an attempt to modernize a traditional genre. This time, he chose a tragic German play, “Woyzeck,” and turned it into a Korean-made musical after eight years of preparation.

“It started off as a global project,” Yun said. “While I was trying to export Korean musicals I’ve created, like ‘The Last Empress,’ and ‘Hero,’ I felt that it was important for the works to have a universality in order to go global. So I began to look for material that is universal, and that was ‘Woyzeck.’”

It was 1970 when Yun first saw the play, then produced by a German theater company. “I still remember one scene after another,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to direct “Woyzeck” as a play one day.’”

But after many decades, and seeing many performances of it worldwide, he began to wonder what would it be like if such a tragic story was set to music. “I thought if such conflicts, pains and agony were told in music, it would be able to reach more people,” he said. “So I began my research and found out that there’s been an opera of ‘Woyzeck,’ but never in a musical.”

This is the first time this 19th century German tragedy, written by Georg Buchner, has been made into a musical. The play was incomplete in 1837 at the time of Buchner’s death at 24.

It was posthumously completed in 1879, and was first published by Austrian writer Karl Emil Franzos. The story is based on a real murder case in Germany during the 1820s and illustrates the “perennial tragedy of the human class that fails to escape from its environmental restraints,” according to the producers. It was the first time in the history of theater that a proletariat was presented as a protagonist.

Franz Woyzeck, the main character who is a lowly soldier, tries to build a happy family with his love Marie and their son born out of wedlock. Woyzeck gets abased by the irrationalities of a hierarchical society but tries to earn extra money for his family by taking part in medical experiments.

In one, he eats nothing but peas while the doctor inspects his physical and emotional changes. Feeling like a lab rat, Woyzeck begins to have a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, a Drum Major seduces Marie, promising he’ll help Woyzeck get out of the medical experiment. Woyzeck, who continues to experience a series of apocalyptic visions, eventually hears about his love’s affair and decides to kill her.

“I first went to England with the idea of turning it into a musical and met with some producers,” Yun said. “The first question I got was, ‘Why are you trying to turn such a dark story into a musical?’ But I know it will work.”

Yun said although the story is dark, there are a few parts that will provoke laughter and tears.

LG Arts Center is the first to co-produce “Woyzeck,” and director Jeong Chang-won admitted he had been waiting for such an opportunity.

“It’s not a showy show but a great work that the audience will sympathize with,” he said. “We decided to co-produce this musical because of its literary value and its degree of sophistication. It took eight years, and that proves many things.”

Woyzeck will be played by actors Kim Da-hyeon and Kim Su-yong, while actress Kim So-hyang will take on the role of Marie. Kim Beop-rae will play the Drum Major.

The musical kicks off Oct. 9 and will run for a month at the LG Arts Center in southern Seoul. The show starts at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekends. There are no performances on Mondays.

Tickets range from 40,000 won ($38.85) to 80,000 won.

BY yim seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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