A Korean production of the Czech musical "Jack the Ripper" in Tokyo, Sunday, was well received by the audience.
/ Courtesy of M Musical Company
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A Korean production of musical "Jack the Ripper", successfully opened at the Aoyama Theater in Tokyo, Sunday. Despite the high price of 9,500-16,000 yen ($120-$200) a ticket, the first night starring Sungmin of Super Junior was sold out and some 1,200 audience members gave it a standing ovation.
The show, revolving around a serial murder case in London in 1888, is originally a Czech musical, but Japan wanted to stage the Korean adaption. The Korean rendition has new characters and choreography, adding more of a spectacle to the show. "Hallyu", or Korean wave, stars such as Ahn Jae-wook and Sungmin attracted more than 40,000 foreigners to the show here following its Korean premiere in 2009.
The show's success is the result of endless efforts by Korean producers and actors to make inroads abroad.
More and more foreigners are filling the seats of Korean theaters. According to ticket vendor Interpark, tickets worth about 3.5 billion won were sold last year through its global website and that of Visit Seoul, around 0.7 percent of total annual ticket sales of 500 billion won. The company expects the proportion to exceed 1 percent this year, thanks to big musicals starring hallyu stars such as "Elisabeth" and "Catch Me If You Can".
Many Japanese fans of Korean musicals began watching them to see K-pop stars but fell in love with the charm of the actors. Some of them regularly visit Korea to see local shows.
Yuko Sugiyama, a Japanese fan of "Jack the Ripper", has often visited Korea to see musicals here. She first came to Korea to see "Xanadu" with starring Kim Hee-cheol and Kang In of Super Junior in 2008.
"I came to see the two but became interested in other Korean musical actors and have visited Korea about once a month since then", Sugiyama said.
Her preferences are large-scale musical comedies as well as more serious smaller musicals. She picked "Black Mary Poppins" and "Push and Pull" as this year's favorite works.
In addition to the outstanding singing abilities of Korean musical actors, Sugiyama liked the dynamicity of the musical industry here.
"In Japan, in my experience, popular actors monopolize big roles and it is hard for a new face to rise", she said. "The Korean musical scene is more vibrant and it is interesting to see an actor who debuted in a small show later become a protagonist in a big production such as Hong Kwang-ho and Jeon Seong-woo".
Sugiyama is curious about the future of Korean musicals in Japan. "It is slowly becoming a genre in Japan, like Broadway musicals. Shows like 'Princess Hours' have been staged in Japan once a year with Korean actors and I think Japan will be a destination for touring Korean musical productions", she said.
The Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS) said 2012 is going to just be the beginning of Korean musicals heading overseas independently.
Earlier this year, homegrown musical "Laundry" and a Korean licensed production of "Thrill Me" were staged in Japan.
"Laundry", known in Japan as "Bballae", describes Na-yeong, a 27-year-old bookstore clerk, Solongo, an immigrant worker from Mongolia, and their neighbors' daily lives in Seoul. The Japanese production is directed by the original playwright and director Choo Min-joo, but all the actors are Japanese and perform in the local language. The play first made its way to Japan in February and toured different cities.
Lee Ji-ho, producer of "Laundry", said the story has drawn sympathy from people of different cultures and it is a meaningful step for a Korean musical since the show is not fueled by s tar power.
"Thrill Me" is an off-Broadway show that has been successful in Korea and the Japanese producer wanted to stage the Korean version, not the original.
The KAMS sees this as a positive sign for the export of Korean musicals without relying heavily on K-pop.
People involved in the theater industry also discussed how homegrown shows can make their way abroad at a conference during the Seoul Musical Festival in August.
Lee Hyuk-chan of Seol & Company said the popularity of K-pop can be an opportunity for musicals since it can attract audiences who come to see their favorite singers.
He also suggested setting a target market as the top priority. "Producers have to decide whether the show will aim at leading markets such as Broadway or the West End or minor markets in Asia or Europe", he said.
Yoko Takahara, a Japanese coordinator of Korean musicals, said producers have to understand overseas markets better.
She said "Laundry" and "Thrill Me" are two good precedents of partnerships between Korean and Japanese theater companies.
"In the case of Japan, tickets are sold some six to 10 months prior to the show opening, but Korean musicals are on a tight schedule and there's not enough time to promote them", Takahara said.
She also pointed out that foreign language information on Korean musicals is insufficient. "More than 90 percent of Japanese tourists to Korea get information from the Internet, but there is no Japanese listing of Korean musicals available online", she said.
More Korean musicals will enter the Japanese market later this year. "Run to You", a jukebox musical featuring songs by DJ DOC, will arrive in Shochiku-za, a 1,000 seat theater in Osaka, on Oct. 6 and Geonil and Kwangsoo of K-pop boy band Supernova will take part in the show.
"Gwanghwamun Younga", another jukebox show with songs of the late composer Lee Young-hoon, will be performed in Osaka in November and Tokyo in January 2013.
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