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‘Pretty boy’ pop stars rush to musicals

For the past few years, Korean “idols” or members of popular boy/girl bands have begun gracing the musical stage ― rushing into the dramatic arts as a gateway to acting.

Seen as the natural stepping stone for singers looking to make some headway into the dramatic arts, stage musicals have fast become the platform of choice for two reasons: They allow them to do what they’re best at ― dancing and singing ― and a chance to prove their mettle in the acting game.

Some stars have seen success, others have been blasted for their ill-conceived venture.

SHINee’s Onew and SS501’s Kim Hyung-joon have been the most recent additions to the list of boy band members switching gears to musicals, joining contemporaries like former TVXQ member Xiah and Tae-yeon of Girls Generation.

Onew’s fall debut with the Korean adaptation of “Rock of Ages” impressed both theater critics and audiences alike with some even saying the singer-turned-musical actor one-upped veteran Korean Wave star Ahn Jae-wook who switched off with the crooner in the lead role throughout its month-long engagement.

In stark contrast, Kim’s gig as a musical actor kicked off to a stuttering start last week with the original production “Caffeine” at the Baekam Art Hall in southern Seoul.
SHINee’s Onew (center) made an impressive debut with the Korean adaptation of “Rock of Ages.” (M Musical)
SHINee’s Onew (center) made an impressive debut with the Korean adaptation of “Rock of Ages.” (M Musical)

His debut was met with a lukewarm response, many saying the fledgling actor had looked awkward and even nervous during key scenes which required him to be confident.

This kind of “shoot first, ask questions later” approach doesn’t seem to faze most musical production houses though as the casting of a boy band or girl band member alone is enough to generate huge interest from the public.

Because the industry has been steadfastly in decline due to an oversaturated market, earning the quick buck has become what matters most.

One of the few successful cases has without a doubt been Xiah’s debut.

Xiah, a former member with hugely popular boy band TVXQ, made a debut with “Mozart” earlier in January which garnered the 23-year-old a slew of acting honors and critical acclaim.

Meanwhile, those who crashed and burned at the court of public opinion were largely criticized for their lack of commitment that was reflected in their stilted performances.

Choi Sung-hee, or Bada as most of her fans know her from her heyday with all-girl band S.E.S., is a veteran of the musical scene who has voiced her frank opinion on the veritable gold rush into the theater arts by her younger contemporaries.

Currently starring in the musical “Broadway 42nd Street,” the production’s theater troupe opened its doors to the press earlier in September where Choi took time off from the rigorous pre-show rehearsals at the KEPCO Hanjeon Art Center in Seoul to field questions about her musical ― but most of all about the rising trend of K-pop idols entering the scene.

The production, having wrapped its run in the capital city, is slated to move on to Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, starting Dec. 3.

“You have to be absolutely sure that this is what you want to do before you go any further,” she was quoted as saying.

“You need to have an actor’s mindset and a responsibility to the craft of acting. Acting in a musical requires you to give yourself and open yourself to your cast mates and if you’re not prepared to do that, the audience won’t be engaged in your performance and that type of dedication isn’t something the head of a production company can give you.”

Choi is considered one of the first K-pop singers to make way onto the musical stage, debuting in 2003 with “Peppermint.”

Since then, she has starred in such hit stage musicals as “200 Pounds Beauty,” cementing her status as one of the local performing and dramatic arts scene’s marquee names.

Echoing her sentiment is veteran actor Jo Jae-hyun (“Bad Guy,” “Address Unknown”) who says singers attempting to successfully cross over to acting must be fully committed.

“For anyone looking to break into theater arts, they have to realize the amount of preparation and time it takes to acclimate to performing on stage because stage acting is an entirely different beast to film or television,” he told The Korea Herald.

“Acting for the stage is one of the most difficult crafts ― even for traditional actors ― and for singers to jump into the fray like that is commendable but you really have to be fully committed because otherwise you’re going to learn the hard way that it isn’t something you just pick up on a whim or by suggestions from your management company.”

By Song Woong-ki (kws@heraldcorp.com)
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