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Changgeuk adaptation of 'Jeong-nyeon' offers what only live theater can

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Feb. 23, 2023 - 20:46

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Poster (left) and the main cast for the changgeuk adaptation of Poster (left) and the main cast for the changgeuk adaptation of "Jeong-nyeon" (National Changgeuk Company of Korea)

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea kicks off the 2023 season with a changgeuk adaptation of the hit webtoon series “Jeong-nyeon” from March 17 to March 29 at Daloreum Theater, the National Theater of Korea in Seoul.

Based on the webtoon of the same title by Seo Ireh and Namon, the changgeuk follows Jeong-nyeon, a young actor-singer in the making who dreams of becoming the best "gukgeuk" performer in the the heyday of the performing art form in the 1950s.

Gukgeuk, or "changgeuk" as it is more familiarly known is similar to the musical genre, with "pansori," or narrative singing, dance and drama all rolled into one.

From left: Actors Cho Yu-ah and Yi So-yeon, director Nam In-woo, music director Lee Ja-ram and actor Kim Kum-mi attend a press conference held at Haeoreum Grand Theater in Seoul, Thursday. (National Changgeuk Company of Korea) From left: Actors Cho Yu-ah and Yi So-yeon, director Nam In-woo, music director Lee Ja-ram and actor Kim Kum-mi attend a press conference held at Haeoreum Grand Theater in Seoul, Thursday. (National Changgeuk Company of Korea)
The cast of the changgeuk adaptation of The cast of the changgeuk adaptation of "Jeong-nyeon" rehearses a scene. (National Changgeuk Company of Korea)

Director and co-scriptwriter Nam In-woo said she contemplated the question: Why did readers, especially young readers, respond so enthusiastically to this webtoon about female gukgeuk?

“As the director, what I felt is, one, the coming-of-age narrative of the young heroines, and two, the solidarity among women,” said Nam during a press conference at Haeoreum Grand Theater in Seoul on Thursday.

“All the main characters are faithful to their aspirations, love and desires. Also, there are no villains in the story. Even Young-seo, Jeong-nyeon’s rival, has a sense of fellowship as a member of the trainee corps.”

Nam said she created the adaptation with that question in mind, converting the scenes into a stage language and re-creating experiences only a live stage can offer.

“We have to engage the audience for two full hours,” Nam said.

“There are a few parts where we deviate from the original plot. And we added our own play-within-a-play of 'Ja Myung Drum,' reinterpreting the old legend with a modern twist."

Acclaimed pansori singer and songwriter Lee Ja-ram directed the music and created some 50 pansori scores for the new changgeuk.

“Since the original material is a webtoon, I wrote the songs while imagining how the cartoon scenes would be re-created on stage,” said Lee.

“As a result, I think a lot of voluminous, dynamic songs came out -- up in the front, main characters leading the song while other characters are singing their own melodies in the background.”

“I also tried to keep the sense of humor,” she added.

Actors Cho Yu-ah and Yi So-yeon from the NCCK are double cast as Jeong-nyeon. The actors said Jeong-nyeon reminds them of their younger selves who dreamed of becoming members of the changgeuk company.

Veteran pansori singer Kim Kum-mi will take Jeong-nyeon's mother, a legendary gukgeuk performer who suddenly disappeared from the gukgeuk scene.