Rebounding from two years of pandemic-related difficulties, South Korea's performing arts industry came back last year stronger than ever, backed by record ticket sales in musicals.
According to the Korea Performing Arts Box Office Information System, which collects and analyzes ticket sales data, the total number of ticket sales for performing arts reached 545.2 billion won ($429 million) as of Dec. 28.
Out of 545.2 billion won, 76.2 percent (415.5 billion won) was attributed to ticket sales generated from musicals which saw a fast recovery after two years of the pandemic and exceeded 400 billion won for the first time. In 2020, musical industry ticket sales fell to 143.5 billion won, from 162 billion won, in the previous year. In 2021, it bounced back to 234.3 billion won.
Last year completely exploded with a long list of star-studded musicals (“The Man Who Laughs,” “Death Note,” “Elizabeth,” “Mata Hari,” "Excalibur”), steady sellers (“Jekyll & Hyde,” “Kinky Boots”, “Aida,” “Matilda,” “Hero,” “Seopyeonje,” “West Side Story”) and also a variety of overseas productions performed in South Korea (“Lion King,” Notre-Dame de Paris,” "Alegria: In a New Light," “Blue Man Group,” “Fuerza Bruta”), which kept musical fans busy throughout the year.
In the third quarter, considered a slow season, the musical industry remained exceptionally vibrant, partly due to the return of big musicals in the quarter and so-called "revenge consumption" by theater-goers.
Also, a notable trend last year was the number of smaller original musicals such as “Frida,” “Showman” and “Let me fly,” adding a variety to the industry and characterized by star casting, big productions and audiences that tend to watch the same musical more than once.
The increase in sales volume was also due to a hike in ticket prices. The ceiling for VIP tickets, 150,000 won, was broken in 2022. Following “Lion King,” which sold VIP tickets at 180,000 won, the Korean productions of “West Side Story” and “Moulin Rouge!” charged for VIP tickets at 170,000 won and 180,000 won, respectively. The most expensive tickets were Cirque du Soleil’s "Alegria: In a New Light,” at 290,000 won, which was 30,000 won more expensive than the ticket price of “Kooza,” another Cirque du Soleil production that performed in South Korea in 2019.
This year 2023 will unveil a series of old and new musicals. Long-running hits including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Rebecca,” “Mamma Mia,” “Chicago” and “Les Miserables” and original musicals including “Beethoven,” “Sisters,” and “The Rose of Versailles."