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Icon of Korean theater celebrates 20th anniversary

Commemorative performance ‘Hakchon Repertoire’ turns fans nostalgic

Veteran actor Kim Yun-seok, who mesmerized cinephiles with his impressive role as a fraudulent gambler in the movie “Tazza,” was at the entrance of Hakchon Blue Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul, on Friday evening, checking names and handing out tickets.

A PR official standing next to him handed a ticket and wanted to confirm if a story will be coming out or not.

“Someone canceled at the last minute so we were able to get one seat for you. You aren’t here just to watch the show, are you? You are going to write a story, right? ... Just asking, because there are some journalists who still ask for tickets anyway,” she said.

It would have been an offensive remark if it had been any other show. But it could be tolerated for “Hakchon Repertoire: from Line 1 to Gochujang Tteokboki,” a sold-out show.

The show is to commemorate the 20th birthday of Hakchon Theater, which falls on Tuesday. Established in March 15, 1991 by the theater’s director, president and scriptwriter Kim Min-gi, Hakchon has been, arguably, playing the role as the incubator of Korean theater during the past two decades.

Kim, an iconic singer of the legendary song “Morning Dew,” which was widely sung as a battle hymn among millions of pro-democracy protesters across the country in the 1970s and 1980s, is one without which Korea’s theatrical history cannot be discussed. 
Kim Min-gi speaks at the press conference in Daehangno, central Seoul, last month. (Yonhap News)
Kim Min-gi speaks at the press conference in Daehangno, central Seoul, last month. (Yonhap News)

A total of around 300 actors and musicians have been with Hakchon in the earlier stages of their careers. Many star actors and actresses who are now seen more often on movies and TV shows debuted at the theater, including Hwang Jung-min, Seol Gyung-gu, Cho Seung-woo, rocker Yoon Do-hyun, and jazz singer Nah Youn-sun.

Wearing matching T-shirts, familiar faces were spotted on and off the stage on Friday evening. Many of the once-Hakchon-crew had promised to play a role in the commemorative show or at least pay a meaningful visit, like Kim Yun-seok did, during the show’s 10-day run.

“This girl was conceived while I was performing ‘Gaeddongi’ right here in 1995. 16 years have passed by and now I am singing with her, right here on the same stage,” said folk singer/actor Lee Jeong-yeol, introducing his daughter Lee Ji-min after singing a duet piece from “Gaeddongi” with her. His 16-year-old daughter inherited his talent; she has been playing main roles in children’s musicals since she was 10 years old.

“It has been years since I have been here, but singing like this on stage, it feels like I’ve comeback only after a week or so,” said Lee, the father.

The commemorative performance started off with a 90-minute condensed version of “Line 1,” the theater’s representative rock musical. It set a landmark in Korea’s theater history by completing 4,000 runs until it ended in 2008. It portrays the joys and sorrows of Seoulites, featuring various characters and events one comes across living in the city. 
Hwang Jung-min (front) and Cho Seung-woo (right) perform in the 3,000th performance of “Line 1” in 2006. (Hakchon Theater)
Hwang Jung-min (front) and Cho Seung-woo (right) perform in the 3,000th performance of “Line 1” in 2006. (Hakchon Theater)

Maintaining the same story line, the play was revised several times since its premiere on May 14, 1994, to better reflect current issues of the time like the severe financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997 and 1998 or the 2002 World Cup.

Hakchon recently announced it will be donating the major stage sets, props, posters and photos of the musical to Seoul Metropolitan City, following the request from the Seoul Museum of History. The articles will be on display for a month in September and will be registered in the modern and contemporary Seoul heritage list.

Though the originally 160-minute show was cut to nearly half that for the commemorative performance, nobody complained. It was not a surprise, as only two or three among the audience raised their hands when actress/film director Bang Eun-jin asked them, in the middle of the performance, if there was anyone who have never seen “Line 1” before. The theater was surely packed with Hakchon fans there to cherish the memories. 
A scene from “Line 1” during its first run in 1994. (Hakchon Theater)
A scene from “Line 1” during its first run in 1994. (Hakchon Theater)

“This part is really funny! The four grandmas are really funny!” a woman excitedly whispered to her friend when ‘four grandmas’ wobbled on to the stage. It was obvious that most audience knew every scene by heart.

The crowd especially roared with laughter when actor Jang Hyun-seong appeared on stage for “Line 1” as a clamorous salesman who crisscrosses subway trains. Jang rapped in ultimate speed and danced ridiculously ― a side of him that is now hard to see in his relatively serious characters seen on TV and movies.

After the intermission, bits from other musicals like “Blood Brothers,” “Good Morning School,” “Gaeddongi,” “Pink Soldier,” and “DoDo” and five children’s plays including “We Are Friends,” and “Gochujang Tteokboki” were staged.

Children’s play is what the company has been putting emphasis on since 2004.

“I’ve recently counted, and starting from ‘Line 1’ which premiered in 1994 to the most recent ‘Gochujang Tteokboki,’ Hakchon has put 12 different shows on stage. After the 4,000th show of ‘Line 1’ in 2008, I have focused on children’s plays. It has been crazy; I have been running nonstop until now. I am going to take some time to get organized and get a fresh start this year. The new start will still be on children’s play” said director Kim at a recent press conference.

“Hakchon Repertoire: from Line 1 to Gochujang Tteokboki” runs through March 20 at Hakchon Blue Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul. Admission is 50,000 won. The original Hakchon theater was renamed Hakchon Blue in 1996 when a second Hakchon Theater, named Hakchon Green, opened only a few blocks away.

Also to commemorate the 20th birthday, concert “Roh Young-sim’s Small Recital” will run from March 22 to 30. The concert by Roh, a well-known singer, pianist and composer, was held at the theater from 1991 to 1994. The members of C’est si bon, like Cho Young-nam, Han Dae-soo and Lee Jang-hee will also make an appearance on the final day of the concert.

For more information, call (02) 763-8233 or visit

By Park Min-young  (
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Korea Herald daum