Musical ‘Napoleon’ looks at human behind the hero

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 28, 2017 - 15:14
  • Updated : Jun 28, 2017 - 15:14

A war hero, a leader, a dictator, a tactical genius; many words describe the French titan known as Napoleon Bonaparte, but one thing that is certain is that he was a human being with many different -- sometimes conflicting -- aspects.

“I feel he is a perfect choice for a musical. He was admired, he was feared, he was revered, and he was loved. These are all the kind of emotions that we like to feel when we go to a musical,” said Richard Ouzounian, who directed several versions of the musical “Napoleon.”

In a press conference for his Seoul production -- which will be staged at Charlotte Theater Songpa-gu, southern Seoul from July 15 -- Ouzounian explained that the musical will be focusing on the complex man that the great Frenchman was.

“(For Seoul production) I looked for something new in Napoleon to discover. And I found that he had one unique gift: he was able to make every single person he encountered in his life believe that they were truly special to him,” he said. “That is what we will try to do with this musical; to make our Napoleon realize that every one of you is special to us.”

Actor Han Ji-sang, who stars as Napoleon in the musical “Napoleon,” performs prior to a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

“Napoleon” follows the rise of the historical figure through his battles, glory and fall.

Han Ji-sang, Michael Lee and Im Tae-kyung will be playing Napoleon, with Jeong Sun-ah, Park Hye-na and Hong Seo-young playing the role of Josephine, the love of his life whose complicated relationship with Napoleon drives the plot.

One of the musical’s strengths lies in the multi-dimensional relationship between Napoleon, Josephine and his “devious counselor” Talleyrand, reimagined as a manipulative, convoluted but passionate character who cannot be defined simply as good or evil. In the words of the director, he is “not a hero, or a villain, but a combination of both.”

“There is so much to say about him. He is basically a chameleon and his traits cannot be described in one or two words,” said Kim Su-yong, who plays the character along with Jung Sang-yoon and Kang Hong-suk.

But the key factor in the musical is still the title character himself. The man was a product of the French revolution, yet he became an emperor. His relationship with his wife both brought him joy, but also tormented him.

Overall, he can hardly be described simply as a dictator, romanticist, a hero, or a patriot. The only word that can describe the figure appears to be “Napoleon.”

“We do not deny all the sides of Napoleon. There are times that he is a cruel dictator, he exiles his brother for life for disagreeing with him politically.

And he is not any kind of saint. He divorces his wife, when she fails to produce him with an heir,” said Ouzounian.

In order to make Napoleon into a character that the people can be invested in, he said the show takes it back to his very beginning -- an impoverished society ailed by corrupt officials -- and sheds light on his complicated relationship with two key people in his life.

With music by Timothy Williams and written by Andrew Sabiston, the Korean musical production of Napoleon is faithful to the original material in terms of story and music. But it also added local elements to appeal to the Korean public.

“It is staged in Korea for the Korean audience, so we thought a lot about how we can redesign the piece to persuade them,” said lead actor Han Sang-jin.

“The country has gone through many things in the past few months, which we think we can blend in with our reinterpretation of the story,” he said, referring to the political chaos in Korea that followed the corruption scandal involving former President Park Geun-hye.

The musical is directed by Ouzounian, produced by Park Young-seok, with Seo Byeong-gu at choreography and music directed by Kim Seong-su.

The show runs until Oct. 22 with ticket prices ranging from 60,000 won to 140,000 won.

For more information on tickets, call 1577-3363.

By Yoon Min-sik