The sight of eight good-looking young men with ripped bodies ― six-packs, pecs, deltoids and biceps ― tearing off their shirts with abandon, pulling down their pants in the blink of an eye, and lap-dancing for women pulled on to the stage from the audience had the women, ranging in age from 20s to 60s, clapping wildly, squealing with delight, howling and yelling.
“The audience is usually rowdier than the crowd tonight,” says Kolleen Park, the director of “Mr. Show,” after taking a sip from a mug of Kirin draft beer during an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday night. That evening’s invitation-only staging had just ended.
Park had been thinking about putting on a sexy variety show featuring an all-male cast for a women-only audience for a long time ― she had written the script 12 years ago ― but the timing was not right, until now.
“Mr. Show” features eight separate episodes, each with a theme based on costumes. One episode features the men in white T-shirts and blue jeans while the final episode has them wearing shiny gold uniforms with aviator sunglasses.
|“Mr. Show” director Kolleen Park poses at the Lotte Card Art Center in Seogyo-dong, Seoul, on Thursday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“Costumes are a bit of someone’s fantasy and they give guys a reason to take off their clothes,” she explains.
“The idea is for women to have fun, go home and laugh about it,” she explains. The absence of men makes it possible for the women to be themselves, without being anxious about what their boyfriends or husbands would think and having to act “properly.”
“It alludes to the nakedness, sexuality. But it is very clean fun,” she adds, dismissing concerns that the show may be lewd.
As there is only one professional actor in the group ― “the boys,” as Park refers to them, include a model, personal trainer and body builder ― there were concerns initially whether they could be whipped into stage performers in just two months. However, the staff was moved to tears on the opening night, seeing how far the boys had come, Park recalls fondly. To achieve the look and the attitude, the performers rehearsed for 10 hours and hit the gym for three hours daily.
Parks admits to never reading media reports about her shows. “I could not be where I am today if I read them because I am so sensitive,” she says. But she is aware of the reports. “I’ve heard many male reporters have negative views about ‘Mr. Show.’”
|A scene from “Mr. Show,” which runs through June 28 at Lotte Card Art Center (Mr. Show Production)|
Asked about her male fantasy ― after all, “Mr. Show” is about fulfilling women’s male fantasies, according to the press release ― Park replies, “I don’t think I have a fantasy. I find it attractive when men put everything into their work, showing dedication to what they are doing, showing their passion for it.
“The boys’ dedication is such a turn-on,” she adds.
What about the claim that the show answers women’s fantasies? “These fantasies are based on ‘research,’ talking with girlfriends and life experiences,” she explains.
Pressed further to put a face on her fantasy man, she blurts out a completely unexpected name: “Peter O’Toole is the love of my life, has been always,” she says. Best known here for his role in “Lawrence of Arabia,” O’Toole died last year.
“Mr. Show” is tame compared to male revues in Las Vegas, which, in Park’s words, are “more raunchy.” “I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of jolly, clean fun, sexy show. There is no parallel in women’s revues either,” Park says.
“Korean women go completely wild and I didn’t want to scare the boys,” she says. The performers are in their mid-20s to early 30s and making them feel safe and not exploited was a big concern.
Contrary to Park’s worries, the boys are having the time of their life. “They’re really enjoying it. One of them said ‘thank you’ on the first preview night,” she says with a glint of pride.
The musical industry’s reaction was one of curiosity. “They thought it was just Kolleen doing something. It took people by surprise,” she says.
Being a good judge of character is a strength to which she attributes her success. “I am very good at reading people and this means that I’m good at casting,” she explains. “My parents taught us (their children) how to look at the world in a big way. I was able to ‘see’ people.” Park is the youngest of three sisters born to a Korean father and a Lithuanian-American mother. She grew up shuttling between Busan and California before she returned for a long stint of studying Korean traditional music at Seoul National University’s graduate school.
She is also a good listener, which enables her to gather great people around her, she says.
Her sensitivity ― “every pore in my body absorbs it” ― while potentially debilitating, allows Park to empathize easily with people and animals.
In fact, she is a goodwill ambassador for an association for Sapsalgae, an indigenous dog breed. “My dog, at 15, is the oldest Sapsalgae in Korea,” she boasts. She is delighted that the World Wildlife Foundation has arrived in Korea and is looking forward to serving it in some way, she says.
Park released her second book earlier this year and is currently involved in two other stage projects: “Ghost,” which she is supervising, and “Kaboom,” a variety show featuring the story of backstreet artists.
“My mind is on variety shows now. I have a plan for a second version of ‘Mr. Show’ that would be very different from the current one,” she says. “I am not locked into a genre. I like my variety.”
Park bemoans the state of the local musical scene today. “The industry has back-pedaled in the last three to four years. Now, it has turned into a massive fan club-based industry,” she observes in frustration with the audience. “Our audience has gone a little haywire in terms of how to view a musical. So, the quality (of musicals) has dropped incredibly. Musicals right now are not fun for me,” she says.
Not all is lost, however. She is waiting for quality musicals to return in about three to four years. “Now we are getting people who trained abroad properly in musical writing returning to Korea,” she says.
Park plans on premiering a new musical in about two years. “‘Airport Baby’ is a musical based on the story of a Korean who was adopted by a Jewish family in the States,” she reveals. It will be half in English and half in Korean, she adds.
Park ― whose strong charisma was on full display in the 2010 KBS show “Men’s Qualification,” on which she trained a group, including several well-known television personalities, to compete in a choral contest ― reveals a nurturing side when she talks about the future.
“I’ve got my gang, much younger than me, actors, writers, music performers. I want to be ironing their shirts when they are on tours,” she says, smiling softly as she envisions the scene.
In return, she made them promise to pay her 500,000 won for snacks every month.
By Kim Hoo-ran, Senior writer