The Korea Herald


Musical about Austrian empress to charm Seoul

By Claire Lee

Published : Jan. 18, 2012 - 18:30

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Pop star-turned musical actress Ok Ju-hyun to star in ‘Elisabeth’

After welcoming the local adaptations of Czech musical “Hamlet” and London’s West End musical “Zorro“ recently, Korea’s theater scene is seeing the arrival of another European show, this time about the real-life 19th-century legendary Austrian empress Elisabeth (1837-1898).

Starring former girl group FIN.K.L. member-turned-musical actress Ok Ju-hyun, actor Song Chang-ui and K-pop group JYJ member and rising musical star Kim Jun-su, the musical, titled “Elisabeth,” portrays the life and death of the beautiful yet unhappy empress who is constantly seduced by the spirit of death. 
Pop singer-turned-musical actress Ok Ju-hyun in the upcoming Viennese musical “Elisabeth.” (EMK Musical Company) Pop singer-turned-musical actress Ok Ju-hyun in the upcoming Viennese musical “Elisabeth.” (EMK Musical Company)
The musical, which premiered in Vienna in 1992, is considered one of the most successful German-language musicals in recent history. It has been translated into seven foreign languages, and attracted more than 9 million viewers worldwide. It celebrates its 20th year anniversary this year, and is being staged in Korea for the first time.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whose real life story became the basis of this musical, was the spouse of Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary.

She was admired by the public for her beauty and supreme fashion sense, and was famous for her rigorous daily beauty routines.

The free-spirited empress was also known for keeping her slender figure by exercising and fasting. Even at age 61, her waist measured only 18 to 19 inches.

The empress is said to have suffered through the relationship with her overbearing, strict mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie. She lost her son to suicide, and was murdered by an anarchist in Geneva, Switzerland in 1898.

Ok Ju-hyun, who plays the leading role as the repressed empress, in fact made a short trip to Vienna in November of last year to learn more about the iconic Austrian woman. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was when she sang one of her numbers at the Schonbrunn Palace.

“I felt some strange energy within my body (while I was singing),” Ok told reporters during a press meeting in Seoul, Tuesday.

“I wanted to console this woman and her loneliness.”

The role of the Death character, who falls in love with the empress at first sight and constantly asks her to follow his path, is shared by actor Song Chang-ui and JYJ member Kim Jun-su. Song has appeared in a total of four musicals including “200 Pounds Beauty” and “Gwanghwamun Sonata,” while Kim starred in last year’s blockbuster musical “Tears of Heaven.”

On playing the role, Song shared his own interpretation on the 19th century notion of romantic death.

“I interpreted this Death character as the atmosphere of the particular era in which this musical takes place,” Song told reporters.

“That atmosphere takes the form of a human being in this musical. He’s sometimes sexy, sometimes poignant, and sometimes explosive. The concept of death was considered very differently at the time from how we view it now in Korea. It was something that freed people from agony and struggles, something hopeful that people thought would lead them to complete freedom.”

“Elisabeth” runs at Blue Square Samsung Electronics Hall in Seoul from Feb. 9 to May 13. For tickets and information, call (02) 6391-6333 or visit

By Claire Lee (