Living in a foreign country has its host of difficulties, especially when you don’t know the language. However, I truly believe that music is international and you don’t necessarily need to comprehend every individual word to understand the feeling or meaning behind a song.
That’s why I wasn’t too worried when I traveled out to the Seongnam Arts Center to see a new musical that had been produced back in September. It was Dorian Gray. I knew the story, so figured I would be able to follow the plot well enough. Mostly I was looking forward to how the story would be translated into a musical, listen to some pretty voices, and of course to see my favorite singer Kim Junsu in the starring role (who I went to see in my first KPOP concert back in June).
This post will contain plot spoilers for The Picture of Dorian Gray and also the musical version. The story is over 100 years old but well… just saying.
The rest of the cast I wasn’t familiar with besides Park Eun Tae who played Henry, whom I recognized from playing Lucheni in the Korean version of my favorite musical, Elisabeth. The good thing about this was I really had no major expectations, and I was completely blown away.
The songs were wonderful and emotive, and everyone in the cast was a stellar performer. It had a healthy balance of narrative mixed with more metaphorical dances and scenes, which it something that really only musical theater can do. And Dorian Gray did it very well, seamlessly blending modern musical elements with classical to create this world.
South Korea is still a very socially conservative country, and so to see art and theater not only putting on productions that have queer characters but actively doing so and exploring those relationships is absolutely wonderful (in the past year there’s been productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, AND Kinky Boots that’s currently playing). So I was well impressed with that, especially as every time we went they seemed to do more and more with it.
It stayed pretty true to the original text as well, and what changes they made I mostly was in favor with. Sibyl’s brother became a sister, allowing more female parts, for starters. The only thing I continued to wrinkle my noise at is that Dorian doesn’t stab the portrait at the end, instead slitting his throat, which in turn makes the portrait return to its original glory. The curtain call was part of the show, depicting limbo/the after life and Dorian being forgiven. This could be argued to be going against the text a bit, however in the end Dorian does make the decision to destroy the portrait and, by proxy, himself to try and absolve himself of his sins… so it’s okay. Plus I desperately appreciated the fact Dorian and Basil got to hug again (pssst there’s tons of fancams of the curtain call, ugly crying faces and all.)
Every actor was fantastic and I really enjoyed getting introduced to new artists after seeing the shows. I’m definitely a Park Eun Tae and Choi Jae Woong fan now, hardcore, and I look forward to following their careers. The woman who played Sibyl, Hong Seo Yeoung was a newcomer and she did a simply lovely job, especially for her debut.
The sets were minimalist in nature, but also really beautiful in that regard. I especially enjoyed the giant windows that would slide in and turn around mid-scene for dramatic effect. The show didn’t need to rely on extravagant sets, which I think always plays to the strength of a performance. They used a lot of media elements though, which was new to me, but added to the overall feel of the show; sometimes videos were superimposed onto scenes as the actors sang a solo, as well as showing two scenes happening at once, which was quite clever.
In total I would go three times to see the show (which closes next Friday as of when this post was published). Each time I would discover new things about the production which I loved (which honestly probably had a lot to do with we progressively got closer with every viewing, 14th, 9th, and 5th row respectfully). But the fact was, I’d fallen head over heels back in love with the theater. I grew up in the theater program through high school, a time when I desperately sought to be good at something like most teenagers. I eventually transferred from on stage to off stage, working as a stage manager and producer, but I’ve honestly been debating giving it a try again. This production had a lot to do with that.
Going to the theater in South Korea wasn’t all that different from anywhere else in the world. Binoculars are popular here, to get a better view of your actor of choice, but otherwise it was pretty much standard. There was a pop up store for merchandise, which was good and prone to sell out before I could get anything, and the theater was gorgeous, if ages away from the city center.
Nicky and I bonded hardcore over this production and we’re sad to see it end, but also immeasurably thankful for having the opportunity to have seen it as many times as we did.
For a tour of the theater, more thoughts about the show and specific performances (including Junsu’s), please watch my vlog (and subscribe <3)
They have released a number of videos with clips and songs from the production, which I have for you below if you’re curious! You can find out more about the production on the musical’s page at CJeS.