The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] 'Phantom of the Opera' makes strong return after long wait

By Park Ga-young

Published : April 5, 2023 - 19:30

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Actors perform Actors perform "Masquerade" during the second act of "The Phantom of the Opera." (S&CO)

BUSAN -- While "The Phantom of the Opera," the longest-running show on Broadway, is set to say its final goodbyes with its last performance on April 16, South Korea's production of the show made a strong comeback in Busan last week.

The local production kept fans waiting for 13 years, while supporters of veteran actor Cho Seung-woo, who has a reputation for creating memorable characters, had been eagerly anticipating his new role for over seven years.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, featuring unforgettable songs like "Think of Me," "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You," forms a strong foundation that supports the theatrical work. However, if the music were the only factor, it alone would not have made the adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1910 French novel so special.

Set in the Paris Opera House, the musical tells the story of a talented but disfigured composer known only as "the Phantom," who becomes obsessed with a young soprano named Christine Daae.

In addition to 220 costumes newly created for the latest production, the elaborate and innovative set design for "The Phantom of the Opera" re-creates not only the grand stage of the Paris Opera House and Christine's dressing room, but also the phantom's underground lair and lake. While some of the pyrotechnics were less effective, the use of trap doors and other special effects that allowed the Phantom to appear and disappear out of nowhere created a sense of magic and mystery that has made the musical a beloved classic.

One of the most iconic elements of "The Phantom of the Opera" is the 1-ton chandelier hanging above the audience, which falls from the ceiling at the climax of the show. Another unforgettable moment is when the actors descend into the underground lair using a trapdoor and a moving platform. The stage also transforms into an underground lake which the Phantom and Christine cross on a boat in another memorable scene.

Actor Cho Seung-woo plays the Phantom in Actor Cho Seung-woo plays the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Dream Theater in Busan. (S&CO)

Actors who have been eagerly anticipating their roles have helped to strengthen the Korean version of the musical. As this is the first local production in 13 years, the roles had not been readily available for the actors, even if they had prepared for them.

Two of the three actors to take the role of "the Phantom" -- baritone-turned-musical actor Jeon Dong-suk and baritone Kim Joo-taek -- and the two actors who perform as opera singer Christine -- Sohn Ji-soo and Song Eun-hye -- are all professionally trained classical singers.

Cho Seung-woo, who is performing in a new musical for the first time in seven years since his role in "Sweeney Todd," brings his strong fan base to the coastal city some 320 kilometers from Seoul. Despite being a rare cast without classical music training, Cho on Saturday performed his role as the Phantom with his captivating acting and appealing voice.

“I was afraid and wanted to run away. I wasn’t sure if this role suited me and I was also frustrated with fighting prejudices and stereotypes. However, so many people encouraged me,” Cho said after his first performance.

Saturday's performance was marred by small mishaps such as a bright lighting that came on suddenly during a dim scene and Cho struggling to reach the top note at the climax.

The audience gives a standing ovation after The audience gives a standing ovation after "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Dream Theater in Busan on Saturday. (S&CO)

The Busan performances run until June 18 at the Dream Theatre, a venue dedicated to musicals.

After 104 performances in Busan, "The Phantom of the Opera” is to travel to Seoul, where it will run at the Charlotte Theater from July 14 to Nov. 17. Musical actor Choi Jae-rim will join the cast as the Phantom in Seoul, bringing the number of actors who take turns performing the role to four.

In 2020, to encourage people to donate to charities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the 25th anniversary version of “The Phantom of the Opera” was broadcast on YouTube for 48 hours. A 2004 movie adaptation as well as many other references in the media may make the audience feel familiar with the musical, and perhaps make it less appealing.

However, there are numerous reasons why “The Phantom of the Opera” has become a must-see musical that has stood the test of time, and even served as a catalyst for Korea’s musical market when the first production in Korea in 2001 generated 19.2 billion won ($14.6 million) in ticket sales, with some 240,000 theatergoers attending 244 performances, in a market that had been worth just 3 billion won.