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[HERALD INTERVIEW]Stage actor steals the spotlight

2007/03/12 | 212 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Musicals have become a popular art form that Koreans have started to enjoy instead of going to movie theaters (even with discounts) or watching soap operas safely at home.

Although there is a dispute about the amount of money that theater-goers have to pay, it is quite amazing to see passionate fans, mostly in their 20s or even 40s, waiting for a glimpse of live stage stars outside of the theater, just like teenagers hanging around the residence of the popular boy group "Super Junior".

It is obviously not their looks, but their many talents that captivate musical theater fans.

Recognizing this new fandom in the country's performing arts industry, local TV and film productions are trying to inject the trend onto TV and movie screens. The result is, so far, quite successful, providing a fresh impact upon the existing pool of celebrities who depend largely on their looks.

Following in the footsteps of some musical actors appearing on TV or movie screens - like Park Geon-hyeong, known as the dancing hero for the Korean version of the West End musical "Saturday Night Fever", and Park Hae-mi of the smash hit musical "Mamma Mia" - another veteran musical actor, Lee Byeong-joon, enjoys unprecedented popularity thanks to the success of the movie "Highway Star". "I couldn't eat during lunch today as there were a number of people who recognized me as an actor from 'Highway Star', and I wasn't able to stay there since they started to talk about the movie", said Lee In an interview with The Korea Herald.

In "Highway Star", the 42-year-old actor played trot singer Na Tae-song, a character who competes with newcomer Bong Dal-ho (Cha Tae-hyeon) on television music shows. The movie produced by Lee Kyeong-gyoo, the comedian and TV show host, sold more than 1.5 million tickets through last week, according to the major multiplex cinema operator CGV.

Thanks to its success, Lee said he is scheduled to appear on TV screens possibly in July.

Holding his two hands together like a 20-year-old rookie having his or her first interview, Lee seemed to be trying to show his politeness mixed with some sort of shyness during the hour-long interview. But he never forgot to make jokes.

"I was quite legendary back in my college years ... Probably up to now. For there are some professors still telling students about a person who wore diapers when playing his first stage drama 'Oedipus'. That was me and I was suffering from diarrhea", said Lee.

It took exactly 20 years for him to make himself known to the public. Lee was part of the original cast in the hit musical "The Last Empress" and has also taken on a number of other leading roles.

"For me, the stage means a place where I can fully enjoy myself, where I can share that enjoyment with audience", said Lee before performing in the new musical "I DO I DO".

Lee appears in the Korean version of the Broadway musical "I DO I DO" currently being held at the KT & G Sangsang Art Hall at Samsung-dong, southern Seoul. Lee plays Michael, an ambitious writer with Park Hae-mi, now a famous TV star for her performance in MBC's situation comedy "High Kick!". Park takes on the role of Agnes, a full-time homemaker.

The musical, written by Harvey Schumidt and Tom Jones, authors of the hit musical "Fantasticks", begins on the wedding day of Michael and Agnes. Lee and Park, who used to be partners on stage in 1996, naturally depict the 50 years of marriage that has troubles, laughter and, memories.

Although his appearance in "Highway Star" has earned him celebrity-status popularity, Lee plans to continue his career with the stage as an actor and producer.

"I've got to make a living when I get old and when my (handsome) looks will no longer appeal to the public. Well ... I want to produce drama or musicals on my own in the future", Lee said.

He said he is busy handling multiple jobs: musical actor, movie star, professor, and a candidate for a Ph.D. in Korean language and literature. "I'm a workaholic. I feel nothing when I'm not working", said the actor who skipped his honeymoon to continue his work.

"Daehangno requires young and intelligent producers educated outside of the area. I must have a good understanding of the writing, and the ability to produce work with my own unique style".

By Cho Chung-un

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