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[Herald Review] In stories of empowering women, 'Red Book' and '9 to 5' differ in portrayals of men

By Park Ga-young

Published : June 5, 2023 - 16:04

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Musical Musical "Red Book" (Ateod)

Recently staged musicals "Red Book" and "9 to 5" share a common underlying theme: Women finding their own voice through hardship. Despite their different origins and settings, both musicals highlight the journey of women overcoming obstacles and asserting their strength.

"Red Book" centers around Anna, a female writer born during the Victorian era. She bravely confesses her first sexual experience to her fiance only to be abandoned. Seeking solace, Anna moves to the city and finds support among the women she meets at the women's cultural gathering, "Lorelei Hill." Together, they publish a magazine called "Red Book," which faces harsh social criticism. The musical incorporates provocative fantasies as Anna copes with her sadness, and one of the standout numbers is "I'm a nasty woman." Despite its explicit title and lyrics, the musical manages to strike a delicate balance and never becomes excessive.

"Red Book" was first staged in South Korea in 2016 through a program that supports original works in various artistic fields. The musical proved a success, winning several awards at Yegreen Musical Award in 2018 and Korea Musical Awards in 2019 and 2022. Back for its third run this year, it attracted about 50,000 theatergoers before its Seoul performances came to a close May 28.

Musical Musical "9 to 5" (Daegu International Musical Festival)

Meanwhile, "9 to 5," hailing from the UK, premiered in Korea at the International Daegu Musical Festival. The musical, based on the 1980 comedy film of the same name, was originally introduced in 2008 before opening on Broadway in April 2009 and moving on to London's West End three years later.

"9 to 5" starts and ends with a title song made famous by Dolly Parton, with a video appearance of the singer herself. Like the film, the musical follows the story of three working women -- Violet, Doralee and Judy -- who unite against their chauvinistic boss and is about friendship, joy, good times and sticking together.

"9 to 5" addresses themes such as gender inequality, workplace discrimination and the challenges faced by women in the professional world.

One significant difference between the two musicals lies in their portrayal of male characters. Although both musicals include positive as well as negative male characters, they emphasize different aspects. While "9 to 5" focuses on the challenges women face due to the actions of certain men, "Red Book" highlights the potential for men to be allies and supporters.

In "9 to 5," the chauvinistic boss, Franklin Hart Jr., consistently objectifies Doralee and Violet's husband engages in infidelity. In portraying the boss characters, the musical shows how he attempts to grab every chance to look under Doralee's skirt, a scene that elicits discomfort in the audience.

"Red Book" also features a man who tries to use his position of power to sexually assault a woman. However, the musical places more emphasis on male characters who knowingly or unknowingly provide support to the female protagonist.

Although both musicals offer compelling narratives that delve into challenges and victories of women in different contexts and time periods, the contrasting portrayals of male characters in "Red Book" and "9 to 5" lead to different levels of positive and uplifting feelings when leaving the theater.

Despite both musicals having ratings that say they are suitable for middle school age children and older, "9 to 5" may be difficult to recommend to families as it explores mature themes and situations that include the portrayal of male chauvinism and sexual objectification.