Musical Theater in Korea: Dorian Gray (Starring Kim Junsu and Park Eun Tae)

By in Asia, Kim Junsu, musical theater, review, Seoul, South Korea, theater, things to do in Seoul, video, vlog
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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. Though since the show the script has been translated into English by the amazing Jenny Han. You can download it HERE.ย 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.

Musical Theater in Korea - Dorian Gray: A New Musical - The Nerdventurists - www.nerdventurists.com

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.

Musical Theater in Korea - Dorian Gray: A New Musical - The Nerdventurists - www.nerdventurists.com
Okay… maybe in hindsight not the BEST photo to illustrate this point…

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.

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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.

Musical Theater in Korea - Dorian Gray: A New Musical - The Nerdventurists - www.nerdventurists.com
They had a portrait on display you could take photos with. I did. Everyone did. It was great.

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.

Musical Theater in Korea - Dorian Gray: A New Musical - The Nerdventurists - www.nerdventurists.com

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 haveย 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.

Also the script has been translated into English by the amazing Jenny Han. You can download it HERE.

  1. Reply

    I’m glad you enjoyed the show! It is true that music can transfer over languages much more easily. I’m not too familiar with this story, but maybe I need to be! I know you’re living in Korea now, but I do not take advantage of the cultural things like this when I travel and I should try to do it more often.

    1. Reply

      Aww definitely read it, it’s a wonderful little novel that gives you lots to think about. I started trying to go to shows abroad a few years ago and I’ve never regretted it. Sometimes it’s just really cool to see how performances are done around the world and to experience new shows and art!

    • shahera5
    • October 23, 2016
    Reply

    You have made my day. Thank you so much for this blog and your vlog about the musical. I have been kicking myself that I didn’t somehow find the wherewithal to fly to Korea from the States and see Junsu in this musical. I ordered the OST and the program book last night so I’ll have that. I so appreciate your comments and discussion of the musical and of Junsu’s performance. Google translate just doesn’t cut it with Korean so I only get a gist of what reviews are saying. He has been nominated for a Best Actor in a musical award and the musical nominated for Best Musical so others think he has done well too. (You might be able to get tickets to the awards show. There seemed to be lots of Junsu fans in the audienxe in 2012 when he won before.)

    I am hoping that CJes Culture will license the musical in other countries. I remember reading that Korea wanted to start doing that.

    Thanks again!

    1. Reply

      Oh my gosh, this was such a sweet message! I’m so glad I was able to brighten your day :). I hope I was able to give you a little taste of what it was like. Though shoot me an email at nerdventurists@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to tell you more specifics!

      The OST is really lovely and is a good selection of the songs and the program book is gooorgeous. I hope they arrive for you soon!

      I hadn’t thought about tickets to the awards show, I’ll have to look that information up if the public is allowed to go this year! That’d be quite fun to attend. The production is fantastic, I sincerely hope it does well at the show, and that Junsu wins of course haha. I’m not sure if they will license it as they’ve released the script, but who knows!

    • benandjessadventures
    • October 23, 2016
    Reply

    really like this post, its very different to the normal things out there in the blogging world. thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much, we try to be a little different here haha.

  2. Reply

    This is the very reason why I think we should all travel if we can. I never would have pictured there being such a production in such a conservative country. You actually have motivated me to search out a play or musical on my next trip abroad.

    1. Reply

      Awww, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day! I’m glad I could inspire you to do that, and I hope you have a wonderful time at whatever show you happen to see! Traveling definitely opens our eyes to all sorts of experiences.

    • Always a Friday
    • October 24, 2016
    Reply

    What a great blog, I’ll be in South Korea soon, I’ll make sure to check out whats on!

    1. Reply

      Oh definitely do! It’s not too hard to get tickets at the theaters or online!

  3. Reply

    This play looks interesting and also the actors, oh wow, really great! I’m not familiar with Korean celebrities but these guys seems top noch!

    1. Reply

      They’re all pretty great, ngl.

  4. Reply

    Such a unique blog post! One of the perks of living in a foreign country like South Korea.

    1. Reply

      Thank you! And definitely, it’s a unique thing to do for sure!

  5. Reply

    Dorian Gray is one of my favorite books. Such an intriguing story, and it sounds like you really enjoyed the play.

    1. Reply

      I enjoyed the book when I read it, though now I can’t wait to go back and reread it after seeing the production, it’s definitely deepened my appreciation for it.

  6. Reply

    What a cool blog you guys have here and while I wasn’t that familiar with Dorian Gray prior to reading your post, your passion for its modernized Korean musical version is evident. Plus, I think it’s always cool when a story is made into a different language/cultural interpretation.

    1. Reply

      Aw cheers! We’re a bit different here, it’s fun haha. I couldn’t help but fangirl a bit, it’s great when you just really enjoy something and wish everyone else could too! Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Reply

    Your Korean language level must be pretty high if you were able to attend & understand a musical in the native level! Congratulations! I’m not familiar with the story of “Dorian Grey” but it looks like a fantastic production & the theatre looks gorgeous, as well as the actors ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Reply

      Not in the least, hahaha, but I know the story already and my friend understands Korean and was able to help me with specifics. I can introduce myself and order food and that’s about the extent of my language ability. I find theater to be pretty universal though, especially when songs and music are involved!

  8. Reply

    It sounds like you had a fantastic time! Must have been such an interesting experience to see the story being adapted into a different language by another culture. Looks like they went all out with the tech aspects of the production as well. What a great way to experience a new country!

    1. Reply

      It was definitely interesting to see how some things were distinctly Korean, despite the story taking place in England. I love that mash up of cultures!

    • foreverfernweh1
    • October 25, 2016
    Reply

    I recently saw that Beauty and the Beast is playing in Kyoto, Japan. I agree that seeing a show thats music and story you are familiar with would be a good introduction into foreign theatre. I think I’ll go look into dates now, thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Reply

    What a fascinating way to take a look into another culture, music and art are truly international and itโ€™s fun to see how it is translated through the filter of South Korean culture.

  10. Reply

    Very nice article! Korea indeed is dominating the entertainment scene! ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Reply

      Haha true, in many different aspects!

  11. It must have been a great experience! ๐Ÿ™‚ I go sometimes to theatre (once even went to opera) while being on trips abroad. And I totally agree with you that it is possible to enjoy the plays without understanding the language (properly).

    1. Reply

      Oooh, I went to an opera in Vienna when I was there, that was a very… intense experience. Though probably more about the production than anything else haha, a rather sordid Romeo & Juliet. It’s so much fun to see art and theater while abroad.

  12. Reply

    I love musicals. And I’d love to visit Korea one day. This show must have been so much fun!

    1. Reply

      Def come visit, it’s a wonderful place to travel to ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Dora
    • October 26, 2016
    Reply

    Love the story if Dorian Grey. I also had the chance to see it in a Greek theater. Nice port

    1. Reply

      Oooh! That would be amazing, was it an amphitheater?

  13. Reply

    I love musicals and though I’ve been in Korea for 11 years now, have never seen one here! Hedwig is the one I really want to see purely out of curiosity of how they would handle the subject matter! Glad to hear that Dorian Grey stayed fairly true to the story.

    1. Reply

      Oooh yeah, I wondered how Hedwig did as well. Though I’m guessing well enough that Dorian Gray and Kinky Boots are on. Would be interested to see how it was Koreanized, if at all.

  14. Reply

    Thank you for this post. I really like reading about culture in different continents!

    1. Reply

      You’re very welcome! Thank you for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Reply

    I just watched the movie of this on tv the other night! Would love to see the musical – it looks fantastic from the clips!

    1. Reply

      It really was the best adaptation I’ve ever seen!

    • nyrdagur
    • October 27, 2016
    Reply

    Thats really cool! I would love to experience such a thing. I totally agree with you about this feeling with music, you don’t necessarily need to understand the lyrics to get the feeling.
    <3

    1. Reply

      Definitely! Music is the international language ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Reply

    Totally loved this post. I have seen dorian gray this year at Edinburgh Fringe festival and since than loved the story.
    Your blog is quite different, and now inspired me to read the book too.
    Very well written.
    thanks for sharing

    1. Reply

      Aww thank you so much, these were such sweet comments! I’d love to see a play adaptation of it, especially at Fringe, there’s always such wonderful show on up there! Hope you enjoy the novel.

    • thesanetravel
    • October 27, 2016
    Reply

    It seems to be a very special experience. You are really a fan of this performance to see it three times. Respect! Thanks for sharing!

  17. This definitely sounds like a completely different experience to what most people would have in South Korea! Definitely an “off the beaten path” experience. I’ve never thought of seeing a musical in another country but maybe I may have to jump at the opportunity next time ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Soraya @ Hello Raya
    • November 9, 2016
    Reply

    How interesting! I am always so fascinated by musicals in foreign countries. Sometimes it can be hard to follow along because of language barriers, but most of the times, you get to know what is going on my the acting and the sets. This sounds like such a fun day and it looks like they did a great job on the set and costumers!

  18. Reply

    Looks like fun. I’ve gone to the opera to see Aida here in Korea and I totally enjoyed the experience. There is some great talent and I highly suggest getting out and taking adventure of the experience.

    • mtolent213
    • January 12, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for this entry. I will be flying over to Korea from the U.S. to watch Death Note at 3 p.m. on the 26th. I was wondering: Is it possible to watch one musical at the Seoul Arts Center (Death Note at 3 pm) and another at the Blue Square (Phantom at 8 pm) on the same day (by subway)? I’m asking this because although I could have tried for Phantom on the 27th, Park Eun Tae isn’t scheduled for the 27th, but the 26th at 8 p.m.! I decided to fly out there after finding out that Death Note was Junsu’s last stint before going into mandatory military service. I’m not a K-Pop fan, but his redefining of L’s character is just amazing (I’m a little disappointed that Kwang-ho isn’t Light this year, though…)

    And, do they sell merchandise related to the musical at the venue (pretty much like when you buy merchandise when you watch a band)?

    Also, you mention fan cams. Are cameras and photography/videography allowed at the venue?

    Thank you.

    1. Reply

      Ahhhh so lucky!! I’m seeing it on the 14th and I’m very excited. The musical is 3 hours long, so that’d have it ending around 6. It’s about an hour transit time, so yes, you should be able to get to Itaewon from the Seoul Arts Center in time!

      I was sad about kwang-ho not reprising as well, but I’ve heard REALLY great thing about the new Light, so I’m looking forward to his performance.

      Yes, there will be merchandise available for Death Note. The merch area opens an hour and a half before showtime, so def get there on time as things tend to sell out, especially since these are Junsu’s last performances before enlistment.

      And fancams aren’t allowed, no. But people still do it anyway. It’s sort of a “at your own risk” deal. If you’re caught, you’ll likely be asked to leave.

      Have a WONDERFUL time!

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