|Musical singer Shin Hae-ji poses for a photo prior to an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Chatty and bubbly in person, emerging New York-based musical singer Shin Hae-ji (Shawna Haeji Shin) reminds one of Glinda, the popular blond witch in “Wicked.”
Yet the 27-year-old is playing a character that’s quite the opposite of Glinda in the U.S. next month. She is making her debut as Kim, the tragic heroine of the popular musical “Miss Saigon,” scheduled to premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Chicago on Oct. 30.
After just starring in three shows ― “Rent a White Guy,” “Talent 101” and “King and I” ― in the U.S., she won the role by sending video footage of her singing Kim’s main numbers: “The Sun and Moon” and “I’d Give up My Life for You.”
“I shot the video myself, at my own place,” Shin said during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. “I would move the curtains as if Kim would do onstage, wearing a dress that has a Vietnamese feel to it. I never had an interview with the director. It was just the video that won me the role.”
Born and raised in Busan, Shin flew to New York after graduating from Ewha Womans University’s vocal music program in Seoul. She majored in musical theater at New York University’s graduate school, in hopes of becoming a musical actress.
“I’ve always wanted to be a musical singer,” said Shin, who is also capable of operatic vocals. “I studied vocal music because I was told that it is the basis of musical theater. I went abroad to study in New York because I was always very confused about the two genres. I wasn’t too clear on what the difference between the two was.”
During the audition for her NYU admission, she was asked to sing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” a famous number from the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on top of an aria from Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.”
“The opera aria was easy, and it went by quickly,” Shin said. “But when I started singing ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him,’ the judges stopped me and said why I was ‘shouting’ so much. Then they asked me to sing ‘Tonight’ from the musical ‘West Side Story’ in my head voice. I did what I was asked to, and I think they accepted me because they thought I could change and develop into a musical singer.”
Based on Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly,” Shin’s upcoming show “Miss Saigon” tells the tragic tale of a Vietnamese woman who is abandoned by her American lover during the Vietnam War. Shin said her lonely first few months in the U.S. helped her understand Kim.
“Playing Kim (the protagonist) is a challenge because she and I are very different,” Shin said.
“I am very responsive and get excited easily. Kim, on the other hand, needs time to process things. She is reserved and enduring. So I try to think from her perspective.
“She lost her parents to the war, has gone through a lot and desperately wants security and protection. For her, her American lover was her everything, the whole world. For her lover Chris, Kim didn’t mean the whole world. The spark was just something special that happened during the war that took place in a foreign country.”
Shin, whose dream role in musical theater is in fact Glinda in “Wicked,” said she is also interested in doing opera as well.
“At NYU, one professor would teach vocal music and musical theater at the same time,” she said. “In Korea, there is still this perception that vocal music is the superior genre (compared to the musical theater). I hope to establish a system where the two genres can coexist and complement each other.”
“Miss Saigon,” directed by Jim Corti, runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 24 in Chicago’s Paramount Theatre. For tickets and information, visit paramountaurora.com/events/miss-saigon.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com