Even "Line One," the long-running hit rock musical adapted from Germany`s "Linie 1 -- Das Musical," has seen a big drop in audience numbers. Its production company said attendance this year was about 25 to 30 percent less than last year.
The situation is a lot more grim for smaller, low-budget theaters, most of which line up Daehangno, Seoul`s theater Mecca. Shows are ending runs early due to empty seats while some theaters have closed down business altogether.
Some production companies are turning to "movicals" -- musical adaptations of hit local movies -- to help them through the slump, with an eye on the year-end season. Based on the success of the movies they are based on, three shows -- "Singles," "Radio Star" and "The 200 Pound Beauty" -- could hit it big, industry insiders say.
Movicals are not a new experiment in the market. In fact, numerous shows including "Hairspray," "Dirty Dancing" and "Legally Blonde" have been proven to be successful at the Broadway and West End.
However, the three shows differ in that they are the first set of movicals whose stories are adopted from domestic movies and it is more likely that their sentiments are well-suited for the local audiences.
Movicals tend to be a safe bet for production companies because of the familiarity factor that draws many people.
"I prefer movicals to other shows because being well-acquainted with the story, I understand better and know what to expect," said 23-year-old college student Kim Hee-suk.
"Singles," the musical version of the 2003 hit movie of the same tile, reopened in October for the fourth season and performing above expectations. The show dealing with the friendship and love of four single men and women who are approaching 30 is winning the sympathy from the audience of the same age group who comprise a majority of the audience.
"Despite the tough time the industry is undergoing, most of out seats are full so we`re quite relieved," said a spokesperson for Aga Company, creator of the show.
The companies which are organizing the three shows are also expecting that the relatively low price tickets will induce more people. Since the shows are all homemade, ticket prices range from 40,000 won to 90,000 won -- modest compared to licensed foreign shows, which tend to cost over 100,000 won.
Although having become common, appearances of popular television or movie actors in the show are still contributing to the popularity of many shows.
In the case of "Singles," singers Lee Sung-jin from group NRG and Andy from hit boy band Shinhwa are starring as nerdy but decent man Jung-jun, and dandy financer Soo-hun, respectively.
In the musical version of the 2007 movie "Radio Star" that concerns the friendship between a rocker who have had his day and his loyal manager and friend, popular 90s singer Kim Won-jun and comedian Jung Jun-ha play the role of the rocker and manager, respectively.
Meanwhile, singer/actress Choi Sung-hee aka Bada from girl group S.E.S. will be playing the central character Kang Han-byul in the 2006 movie-turned-musical "The 200 Pound Beauty," set to open later this month.
Choi will play the nameless singer -- played by Kim A-joong in the movie version -- who gains confidence and success as a singer after undergoing plastic surgery and a radical makeover.
Yet, the production companies are not merely depending on the success formula of the movies the shows are based on. The movicals are going to be unique and fun in their own ways and will differentiate themselves from the original movies, they say.
"When we saw the movie in 2006, we saw a good content," said Kim Young-wook, the CEO Shownote which created "The 200 Pound Beauty."
Kim added that the production crew decided to make modifications to some characters and parts of the story, intending to pursue completeness within the limitations of time and setting of the musical genre.
"We want this show be received by the audience as a separate well-made show, rather than just an ordinary movical," said Kim.
"Radio Star" will be staged until Dec. 31 at Theater Yong in the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. Tickets are 60,000 won and 70,000 won. To find out more, call (02) 1544-5955 or go to www.cfnmk.or.kr
"Singles" will run through Jan. 18, 2009 at Baekam Art Hall in Samsun-dong, Seoul. Tickets are 40,000 won and 60,000 won. For details, call (02) 764-8760.
"The 200 Pound Beauty" will be staged from Nov. 27 to Feb. 1, 2009 at Chungmu Art Hall in Heungin-dong, Seoul. Tickets run from 40,000 won to 90,000 won. For details, call (02) 3485-8721.
By Koh Young-aah