Powerfully presented Broadway music dwarfs Morricone’s prerecorded oboe
Since the start of the new year, Korea’s musical scene has been buzzing about two blockbuster musicals by overseas composers, directors and stage designers to premier in Seoul and later target the global audience.
While “Tears of Heaven” has “Jekyll & Hyde” composer Frank Widlhorn, “Sweeny Todd” director Gabriel Barre and Tony Award-winning stage designer David Gallo in its artistic arsenal, “The Mission” boasts the use of Ennio Morricone’s famous music “Gabriel’s Oboe” originally featured in the Oscar-winning movie, “The Mission.”
A scene of Joon (Kim Jun-su) and Linh (Yoon Gong-joo) in musical “Tears of Heaven” (Seoul&Company)
“Tears of Heaven” is a story about a Korean man’s passionate love for a Vietnamese woman during the Vietnam War, but all is ruined in a betrayal by the woman’s friend.
“The Mission” tells the same story as the 1986 film ―two Jesuit priests in the 18th century serving in a South American jungle try to protect the native Guarani community endangered by pro-slavery Portugal.
In the first week since the premier, “Tears of Heaven” has defeated the Korean-Italian production “The Mission,” in almost every aspect.
Wildhorn’s newly composed 30 songs for “Tears of Heaven,” an extensive three-year undertaking, fully filled the Haeoreum Theater of the National Theater of Korea on Wednesday.
The first male solo “Better Left Alone,” a powerful song of the past from the main character Joon, instantly engaged the audience in the unfolding tale of a South Korean man’s memory of love for Linh, the Vietnamese woman engaged to U.S. Colonel James Grayson.
The orchestra’s delicate modulation, reflecting the lyrics and emotions, was timely and accurate, although there were a few chorus scenes where the music was a little louder than the singers’ voices.
All of the actors demonstrated great singing and acting talent, including Jeon Dong-seok, who played Joon, and Lee Hae-ri, who played both Linh and her daughter Tiana.
Brad Little ― the Broadway musical star famous for performing “The Phantom of the Opera” more than 200 times ― perfectly transformed from being a caring U.S. soldier into an evil manipulator.
In contrast, the pre-recorded music used in “The Mission”, which began with a scene of a waterfall, failed to resonate with the audience at the Grand Theater of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
A scene of Gabriel (Daniele Gatti) in musical “The Mission” (Sang Sang Musical Company)
Ennio Morricone’s several new songs for the musical and the rest composed by his son, Andrea, were fine but prerecorded sound could not give vitality to the stage.
Except for Father Gabriel’s solos, such as “A Simple Melody” with the melody of “Gabriel’s Oboe” sung by Daniele Gatti, actors and actresses ― who were Italians speaking in English ― sang and acted relatively poorly.
The English lyrics were not clear most of the time and the majority of the Korean audience relied on a sloppy Korean translation, provided through small LCD screens on the back of the seats in front.
The Guarani tribe’s group dancing and singing looked unfulfilling, although their acting was relatively engaging.
In terms of stage design, “Tears of Heaven” knocked down “The Mission” as well.
While the former smartly and swiftly changed scenes using a variety of multimedia, lighting and shadows, the latter’s design was too predictable and scene changes too slow.
“Tears of Heaven” was not without faults, however. The plot was too obvious and predictable, allowing the audience to guess the whole storyline after the first 10 minutes
Facing vehement complaints and negative online reviews about “The Mission,” the producer Sang Sang Musical Company said on Wednesday it will offer free tickets to those who saw the musical between Feb. 2 and Feb. 6, as it has now replaced a main actress and added a 15-member choir.
It is the first time in Korean musical history that such a “recall service” is being offered.
Those who want to see the musical again can book by sending an e-mail with their chosen show date on a weekday before Feb. 24, along with their personal details to firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 13.
“Tears of Heaven” runs through March 19 at the Haeoreum Teater of the National Theater of Korea. Tickets range from 30,000 won to 130,000 won. For details, call (02) 501-7888. “The Mission” runs through Feb. 26 at the Grand Theater of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from 60,000 won to 200,000 won. For details, call 1688-9721.
By Kim Yoon-mi (email@example.com)