Korean musical stars shine overseas

March 18, 2014
Korean stage actors  are building up reputations through musicals and drawing attention from overseas producers. (Korea Time file)

Korean stage actors are building up reputations through musicals and drawing attention from overseas producers. (Korea Time file)

By Chung Ah-young

As Broadway hires movie and television actors like Daniel Craig, Korean musical producers are increasingly casting K-pop stars, soap opera actors and other big names even though their commitments to the show are weak due to their hectic schedules.

But some Korean stage actors ― not the A-list or K-pop stars ― are building up reputations through musicals and drawing attention from overseas producers. They are riding on the Korean musical boom in countries such as Japan and China in this rapidly growing musical market.

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Hong Kwang-ho, one of the top Korean musical actors along with Cho Seung-woo, will make his debut in “Miss Saigon” at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End in May. He is the first Korean actor to play a lead role in the West End.

Renowned for various roles in the musicals such as “Miss Saigon,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Jekyll and Hyde’’ and “Man of La Mancha,” he impressed world-renowned producer Cameron Mackintosh.

Hong will play the role of Thuy in “Miss Saigon” along with Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, Tamsin Carroll as Ellen, Hugh Maynard as John and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi.

Mackintosh highly appraised Hong’s talent in the first Korean production of “Miss Saigon” a few years ago, along with “The Phantom of the Opera” in the Korean production.

Kim Da-hyun and Yoon Hyeong-ryeol are increasingly becoming popular in Japan.
Yoon came to prominence on the musical scene with his role of Quasimodo in “Notre Dame de Paris” and rose to musical stardom with “Gwanghwamun Sonata” which starred K-pop singers such as U-Know Yunho from TVXQ, Zio from MBLAQ and Yang Yo-soap from BEAST.

“Gwanghwamun Sonata” has received rave reviews both from home and abroad particularly in Japan and China. It tells the story of the late legendary composer Lee Young-hoon.

Responding to the rising popularity in Japan, Yoon will hold a solo concert in Kobe in Japan on April 6. He will perform more than 10 songs including the musical numbers and K-pop songs he sang in KBS TV shows.

“It is rare for Korean musical actors to hold a solo concert in Japan. He is drawing the Japanese interest. He will show the wonderful performances for his fans at the upcoming concert,” his agency said. Yoon has been recently cast for the musical “Sherlock Holmes ― Bloody Game.”

Kim, a star of the musical “Hedwig” and “The Sorrow of Young Werther,” has already drawn attention from Japanese fans because of last year’s performance. He held the solo concert in Tokyo and sang the musical numbers. His agency said that the Japanese fans are showing interest in Kim and also the Korean musicals. Tickets for his concert have already been sold out.

Musical actor and crossover tenor Im Tae-kyung kicked off his activity in Japan with the new album titled “All This Time” in February. Watanabe Music Publishing, a Japanese music label, recognized Im’s Tokyo performance at the K-Musical Stars Concert in April 2013 and made the album available to Japanese fans. Im has starred in musicals such as “Hamlet,” “Mozart” and “Three Musketeers.”

Overseas pioneers

But actress Lee So-jung pioneered as the first Korean actress to debut in Broadway in 1990s. Born and raised in Korea, Lee was also recognized by Mackintosh and offered the role in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway. Since then she has starred in numerous musicals around the world including the role of Lorrain in the European musical “Dracula.” She was also chosen by Disney for the voice of “Mulan” in the movie’s Korean release and played the role of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin.”

She starred in Korean musicals such as “Maria, Maria,” “Sword of Fire” and “Queen Sun-deok.” Lee has therefore solidified her career as a renowned vocalist by performing in several concerts around the world.

Actress Im Gyu-jin landed a lead role in the musical “The Fantasticks” on Broadway in 2011 three years after she went to the U.S. Also, she performed the role of Mulan for the musical “Disenchanted!” which was staged in 2011 at the William Paterson University of New Jersey.