The major hit MBC drama "Daejanggeum," which received an explosive reaction from viewers throughout Asia, will be made into a musical. Titled "The Great Jangguem," a musical version of the TV drama will entertain theatergoers at the Seoul Arts Center from May 26 to June 16.
On Monday, MBC, one of Korea`s three major broadcasters, and its joint production partner PMC Production held a showcase for the press at a hotel in Seoul, unveiling five songs from the much anticipated domestic production.
The musical adaptation of a period TV drama has received attention from media since last year, raising speculation of whether the musical will be as successful as the drama.
The TV drama "Daejanggeum" was phenomenally successful in 2003, garnering an average of 50 percent of Korean viewers.
The 54-episode drama also made a huge contribution to spreading Hallyu, or Korean Wave, as it was exported to over 50 countries around the world.
MBC and PMC Production, creator of the nonverbal performance "Nanta," poured 6 billion won ($6.5 million) into the homegrown musical production and aim to put it on international stages after its premier in Seoul.
"We will first target Southeast Asian countries starting in 2008, and then move on to other countries in Asia," said Song Seung-hwan, co-chairman of PMC Production.
"I think the creation of the musical `The Great Janggeum` will give an inspiration for other local productions wishing to perform at major theaters in and out of the country," he added.
The musical production follows the same storyline as the drama that portrays a woman who serves at a palace cooking for the royal family during the Joseon Dynasty. Although Janggeum faces difficulties as a woman from a lower class, she overcomes all those hardships with her courage.
Questions lingered about how a musical could entertain audiences with the story of a royal cook. The TV drama fascinated viewers by showing table after table of beautiful and exquisite royal cuisine.
Han Jin-sup, producer of the musical, said he will use music to substitute for visual effects.
"We will have rhythm and melodies that will replace the enjoyment of watching beautiful sets of Korean food and also will have lots of Korean colors and styles to amaze audiences," said Han.
A total of 40 songs for the musical are arranged and written by Cho Sung-woo, a famous film composer. This is the first time that Cho, now an internationally acclaimed composer, has written vocal and background music for a musical.
"This is a great opportunity and an honor for musicians like me to have a chance to write songs for musical productions. I tried to make songs that have both the Korean and Western melodies," said Cho.
Asked about how to deliver a storyline that requires some knowledge of Korean history to foreign audiences, Song said the musical will highlight `love,` as a universal theme in the musical.
"Because many viewers in Asian countries saw the TV drama, I think the musical won`t be too new for them. We will consider using subtitles during the show and I think it won`t be a big problem either," Song said.
The blockbuster musical production hired some of the country`s leading musical actors including Kim So-hyun, Lee Tae-won, Na Hyun-hee and Kim Woo-hyung. It is quite interesting to see a number of veteran musical stars acting in one show. Lee Tae-won, who rose to fame playing the main role in "The Last Empress," will play the wicked court lady, Choi.
"Many people ask me how I feel to be demoted from an empress to a court lady," Lee said with a laugh. "But I feel thrilled to show my new character, a vicious lady, through this musical."
By Cho Chung-un