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Sunday, 18 March 2007

Korean musicals: The Last Empress Review

Musicals are not on my top ten list of things to do. The last musical I saw was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring the boyhood idol of millions, Donnie Osmond (who misses his talk show Donnie and Marie?)--I was in the 5th grade at the time. Ever since that life changing experience, I cannot go a day without singing the following excerpt from one of the musical's tracks, Go, Go, Go Joseph:
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go
Joseph you know what they say
Hang on now Joseph you'll make it some day
Sha la la Joseph you're doing fine
You and your dreamcoat ahead of your time

Go, go, go, go, go, go, go Joseph you know what they say
Hang on now Joseph you'll make it some day
Sha la la Joseph you're doing fine
You and your dreamcoat ahead of your time

Anyways, to get back on topic, we recently checked out a Korean musical, The Last Empress, with a couple friends from work. This production started in 1995 as Korea's first original musical and has also debuted in New York at the New York State Theater and Lincoln Center, along with London's West End. It has been highly critically acclaimed and seen by millions around the globe. So just what is this musical about? It's about the life of Empress Myeongseong, who according to Wikipedia:
...is viewed by many as a national heroine, for striving diplomatically and politically to keep Korea independent of foreign influence. She was skilled in foreign affairs and diplomacy, and had an ambitious plan to modernize Korea. The Japanese viewed her as an obstacle against its expansion overseas. Efforts to remove her from politics failed, orchestrated through rebellions prompted by her father-in-law, the influential regent, compelling the Empress to take a harsher stance against Japanese influence. She was killed in her residence in Gyeongbokgung on October 8, 1895.

So this musical was also a short history lesson on Korea. The musical was playing at the Seoul Arts Center in their Opera Theater. It was quite large with seating for 2300+ people. We had seats on the second floor balcony. This was our first foreign musical experience, so that meant subtitles, which were projected above the top of the stage. The musical itself was extremely elaborate with incredible costumes and a wide range of set changes (including pyrotechnics!). I did find it difficult trying to read the subtitles high above the stage, while at the same time trying to focus on the stage below--my eyes wouldn't let me!

The show lasted for 2 hours and 30 minutes (with a 20 minute intermission). Let's just say my butt was pretty darn sore for sitting for so long (being over 6 ft tall and a lack of legroom does not help). Although it was a wonderful experience and a unique visual history the life of Empress Myeongseong, I would've enjoyed it more if I understood Korean. What I should have done was read up about her story prior to the musical, as that would've made following it a lot easier. But nonetheless it was a good experience.

Remember how I posted about how Koreans love posing for pictures in front of backgrounds? Well, here we are striking a pose:


Any sort of camera or recording devices are strictly forbidden inside the theater. However, I think my UV light pen has influenced me to become the ultimate spy. The subtitles were projected at the very top of the stage, where it reads "The Last Empress":


Here is a small video clip of the musical (I told you, my UV light pen is the root of evil). The stage is set as a huge ship and those three men represent foreign powers that want a piece of the Korean peninsula and all it has to offer (another clip will come in the morning):


Here's the other clip as promised:


Interested in seeing the musical? You're out of luck because it's no longer showing, sorry. How did we get to the Seoul Arts Center? We arrived by subway via the green line (line 2) and stopping at the Nambu Bus Terminal station. From exit 5, a complimentary shuttle bus took us to the Seoul Arts Center. More info about pricing and such can be found on the musical's website.


"Whoooooo'ssss your daddy?" - Donny Osmond

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