‘Gutenberg’ homes in on humor over history

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‘Gutenberg’ homes in on humor over history

If Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468) were to see a musical named after him, produced centuries after his death, he would probably be disappointed.

But only at first.

Held in a theater with about 250 seats, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” does not seem like a big-scale production fit for one of the most influential inventors in history.

Yet beyond the shabby costumes and set, the silliness on stage will have viewers wondering whether the life of the historical figure was really filled with so much laughter.

“Gutenberg” arrived in Korea last year, marking the first time for the production to be reproduced in an Asian country.

The show turned out to be a smashing success, so much so that it kicked off its second season last Wednesday and is scheduled to run through early December in Jongno District, central Seoul.

Hur Gyu and Jang Seung-jo are double-cast as Bud, while Kim Jong-goo and Jeong Won-yeong share the role of Doug.

“Our main focus was to put a lot of effort and money into creating a show that looked awfully cheap and unprofessional,” said Song Han-saem, one of the musical’s three producers.

The original 2006 script, written by Scott Brown and Anthony King, only requires two actors to be on stage, playing the aspiring playwrights Bud Davenport and Doug Simon.

The show is performed as if it is a backer’s audition by the rookie authors, who present their work in front of Broadway producers, convinced they’re on the edge of something huge. But because of a lack of money to hire a cast or orchestra, the two take matters into their own hands and play the dozens of roles themselves - everything from an old lady to rats scurrying on the floor - aided only by baseball caps with their characters’ names scrawled on them.

While Bud and Doug play out the 20 different roles, they’re not just switching characters but are trying to convince the actual audience - who are assumed to be Broadway producers - that they’re putting on a great show.

The fictional approach they take to present the life of Gutenberg, the German blacksmith who introduced the printing press to Europe, is a far-fetched story they simply made up, as represented in part by the anachronistic name they give the historical figure’s buxom assistant: Helvetica.

At a press call held Tuesday, it was obvious that the performers were struggling to juggle singing in high pitch, dancing across the stage, rummaging through a pile of props to design their own set before acting a new scene and, above all, playing 20 different roles.

But the very clumsiness is what draws the crowd into a scenario, considering that Bud and Doug are trying to prove that their production has the ability to become the next big hit in New York.

For the director of this show, Kim Dong-yeon, nothing is more crucial than the local actors maintaining that “fluttering first moment” throughout the entire season.

“I tell our performers over and over again never to lose the butterflies in their stomachs,” he said.

The show runs for 100 minutes, but the positive energy should never die in the theater, he stressed.

“I hope people come to see our show and leave with confidence that they, too, can live their dreams,” said actor Jang, 32.

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” is held at Soohyunjae Theater in Jongno District, central Seoul. Tickets cost 55,000 won ($52) and can be purchased through ticket.interpark.com or ticket.yes24.com.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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