Musicals that focus on identity fill summer musical calendar

By Yoon Min-sik

From double spy to independence fighters to Jewish prince, complex protagonists dominate the stage

  • Published : Jun 20, 2017 - 16:06
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2017 - 16:06
Popular musicals are returning this year, treating fans to locally produced shows ranging from a home-borne story of Korea to a legend about a supposed female super-spy.

“Mata Hari” is already being staged at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul. Continuing on until Aug. 6, the production is based on the true story of the Dutch dancer who was accused of being a double agent and a spy during the World War II and was executed. 

A promotional image for “Mata Hari” shows Ock Ju-hyun. (EMK Musical Company)
A poster for “Mata Hari” (EMK Musical Company)

The idea of an exotic dancer working as a spy had inspired the imagination of many writers, and her story was eventually adopted into various live-action films and musicals, the latest being a musical directed by Stephen Rayne that debuted in Seoul last March.

Singer-turned-musical theater actress Ock Ju-hyun will be reprising her role as the femme fatale spy, along with actress Cha Ji-yeon.

The cast includes Um Ki-joon, Lim Seul-ong, idol singer Leo of VIXX (Jung Taek-woon) and Min Young-ki.

Tickets cost 50,000 to 140,000 won.

For more information on the tickets for the already-running shows, visit or call 1577-6478.

“Arirang” will be staged at Seoul Arts Center from July 25 to Sept.3. Based on a book of the same name, which also is the beloved Korean folk song considered the unofficial national anthem of the country, the story takes the audience to the early 20th century Korea colonized by Japan.

The musical’s take on the hardship, struggles and defiance against imperial Japan uses music and minimalistic staging to touch on various issues, including pro-Japanese collaborators who betrayed their own country and freedom fighters who were socialists. 

A Promotional image for “Arirang” (Seensee Company)
A promotional image for “Arirang” shows Ahn Jae-wook and Seo Bum-seok. (Seensee Company)
A promotional image for “Arirang” shows Yoon Gong-ju and Park Ji-yeon. (Seensee Company)

The Go Seon-woong directed musical is a massive piece featuring 42 actors, a production that was three-years in the making. It was last performed in 2015.

Thirty-one of the original 42 members will be returning, including the main characters Ahn Jae-wook, Seo Bum-seok, Kim Woo-hyung and Yoon Gong-ju.

“I think the interaction we (cast members) had was so strong because it (Arirang) had the spirit of patriotism rooted deep within. ... I found the raw power of the word ‘Arirang’ inside me, and in this piece. It was our job to deliver that to the audience,” said Ahn, again playing the role of Song Su-ik who leads the people in “Arirang.”

“Arirang” starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekends. Tickets range from 40,000 won to 130,000 won.

Another musical inspired by a story about Korean traditional music is “Seopyeongje,” based on a 1976 book of the same name that also inspired film director Im Kwon-taek’s 1993 masterpiece.

The story follows a wondering music master Yu-bong, his son Dong-ho and his adopted daughter Song-hwa. The trio travels down a path of an artist through personal struggles, pain and human conflicts in their nomadic existence.

Directed by Lee Ji-na, “Seopyeongje” opens at the BBCH Hall at Kwanglim Arts Center in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul on Aug.30.

Cha Ji-yeon and Lee So-yeon will play the role of Song-hwa, along with pansori artist Lee Ja-ram. Yo-bong will be played by Seo Bum-seok and Lee Jung-yul while Kang Pil-suk, Kim Jae-bum and Park Young-soo will play the role of Dong-ho.

Ticket sales open on July 11.

An epic saga of “Ben Hur” will take the stage on Aug. 25 at Chungmu Arts Center in central Seoul. The story about the fictional Jew of ancient Roman times is based on the 1880 novel of the same name and the 1959 movie.

Director Wang Yong-beom and music director Lee Seong-jun has teamed up again for the first time since the 2014 musical “Frankenstien.” It runs until Oct.29.

The key role of Judah Ben-Hur will be played by veteran actor Yoo Jung-sang, Park Eun-tae along with singer-actor Kai. His love interest Esther will be played by singer-turned-actress Ivy and musical actress Ahn Si-ha.

By Yoon Min-sik