[Star Focus] Idols are Taking on Musicals, not for Survival but for Love of the Stage -
Kim Junsu Reigns at Top; Lim Sihwan Shows Promise as Up-and-Comer
The history of idols in musicals begins 15 years ago with SES' main vocal Bada making her theatre debut in the 2003 musical 'Peppermint.' Following her in 2005, Ock Joohyun from Fin.K.L. was cast in 'Aida,' and together they became the 1st generation of "musical idols." Established musical theatre actor Lee Changhee was once active in the idol group 'OPPA' in the late 90s. After making his theatre debut with the 2005 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' he has consistently made his way in musicals with 'Ghost,' 'Once,' 'Arirang,' 'Mozart,' 'Phantom,' 'Man of La Mancha,' 'The Greatest Showman' etc
In 2008, G.O.D.'s Son Hoyoung and Click-B's Oh Jonghyuk each made their theatre debut with 'Singles' and 'On Air Season 2' respectively. In the same year, Seungri (with 'Sonagi') and Taeyang (with 'Cats') from Big Bang also tried their hands at musicals. Among them, Oh Jonghyuk in particular stood out with musicals like 'Geunaldeul,' 'Notre Dame de Paris,' 'Me, Natasha and the White Donkey,' etc. He even became the only idol to also venture into acting in plays such as 'Pride' and 'Kill Me Now.' Hong-ik Univ. professor of performing arts, Lee Yoonjeong, cites Oh Jonghyuk as a promising stage actor who "has shown moments of skillfully engineering chemistry with the audience."
The early 2010s were dominated by male idols, symbolized by the successful musical theatre debut of Kim Junsu of JYJ in 2010's 'Mozart!' Kim Junsu went on to make consecutive hits out of 'Elisabeth' and 'Dracula,' becoming the blue chip of the industry and threatening the existing hierarchy over which Jo Seungwoo reigned supreme. Productions such as 'Death Note' (based on the Japanese manga) and 'Dorian Gray' (adapted from Oscar Wilde's novel) would have been impossible without Kim Junsu's character at the center, in addition to his popularity; neither would have the original musicals 'Tears of Heaven' and 'December.' He is currently finishing up his mandatory military service, while considering the role of 'Death' in the musical 'Elisabeth' which opens in November.' (Xia is Kim Junsu's stage name.) Bae Kyeonghee, editor-in-chief of magazine 'The Musical,' says "he was the most influential idol in the musical theatre world before his enlistment so there is much interest over which projects he will choose after being discharged." Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Sungmin of Super Junior; Key and Onew of Shinee; Jun.K of 2PM; Changmin and Jo Kwon of 2AM; Dana and Rina of CSJH The Grace; are all "musical idols" who garnered attention in the 2010s. The same goes for Jang Hyunseung of Beast, Seonggyu and Woohyun of 'Infinite,' Sandeul of 'B1A4,' Yeun of Wonder Girls, Jung Eunji of Apink, Lee Jaejin of FT Island, Lim Sihwan and Park Hyungshik of ZE:A and Luna of f(x). Taeyeon, Tiffany, Jessica and Sunny of Girls' Generation also tried their hands at musicals but did not receive as enthusiastic a response as anticipated. Performing arts columnist and professor of Business Management for the Arts at Kyunhee Univ., Ji Haewon, singles out Seonggyu (currently serving) as one to look out for. "He executed relatively diverse roles in a short time period. He's an idol that shows potential for broadening his spectrum as an actor." While not seen in any musicals since 'Catch Me If you Can,' he is still deemed talented enough to have potential.
Park Byeongseong, columnist and director of 'The Musical,' has his eyes on Girls' Generation Sunny "who's an idol that can sing but who also has a flair for naturalistic acting. She should engage more actively with musical theatre." Seohyun, a member of the same girl group, is also considered to be promising after she received positive reviews for her roles in 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Mamma Mia!' A late-comer compared to her group members, she is showing rapid growth. Professor Ji states "she's one of the idols that displayed the most noticeable growth after each musical and seems to be on a path to playing leading roles, including the current TV drama she's starring in." MBLAQ's GO, who debuted with the musical Seopyunjae in 2014, and BESTie's UJi, who was in the musical 'Full House,' 'Dream Girls' and 'Notre Dame de Paris,' are also idols showing growth.
There are even idol-specialized musicals appearing on the scene, 'In The Heights' (2015 Korean premiere) being the most notable one. The musical is one of the earlier creations of Lin Manuel Miranda, the multi-talented winner of 11 Tony awards for the sensational hip-hop comedy musical 'Hamilton.' With rap and street dancing anchoring the musical - something rarely found on Korean stages - it almost requires idols to be the main players. Naturally, a large group of them were cast including Key, Infinite's Seonggyu and Jang Dongwoo, VIXX's Cha Haykyeon, Block B's U-Kwon and Jaehyo etc. The musical 'Flower Over Boys,' based on the manga of the same title, was also possible because there were idols, as they fit the bill perfectly to play F4, the heirs to chaebol fortunes with looks, money and glamorous lifestyles. BTOB Lee Changsub, VIXX Ken, Super Junior Seongmin, Miss A Min were among others to star in the musical. f(x) Luna and Shinee's Key stand out for Prof. Lee. "They stay faithful to the story and don't only rely on their stardom." Kangta from HOT is a 1st generation idol that is very late to the game. He once starred in the military musical 'Mine' during his enlistment in 2008 but made his official commercial theatre debut with 'Bridges of Madison Country' recently. When asked what had took so long, he replied "I was waiting for the time I'd be able to do justice to the musical stage."Prof. Ji says she is looking forward to musical theatre actor Kangta and calls his move "a new beginning for an experienced 1st generation idol." Baby V.O.X's Kan Miyoun is another later-comer - she made her theatre debut last year with the musical 'I Love You' and is currently participating in 'Rocky Horror Picture Show.' A characteristic of the latest "musical idols" is that they do not so much as use the genre to expand their sphere of activity as actually start off with an interest in musical theatre. In the past, musicals were a way to prolong the short lifespan of idol careers; now, the theatre has become another setting for them to achieve their dreams. This is evidenced by idols who choose supporting roles that suit them rather than insisting on the lead role. Jo Kwon, who played the troublemaker Adam in the musical 'Priscilla,' is a good example. He even appeared in the B-list musical 'Evil Dead.' Ryeowook is another example of someone who chooses small but good roles in musicals like 'The Goddess is Watching' and 'Agatha.'
Columnist Kwon Haeun says of Jo Kwon: "It would be okay to just look cool on stage but he enjoys opting for unfamiliar paths over safer routes. He makes smart choices like playing King Herod in 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and Adam in 'Priscilla.' Another reason idols venture into musicals, aside from their own wish to sing and act, is the rising interest from the entertainment industry, following the emergence of musicals as the next Hallyu. SME, under which SM C&C produced 'In the Heights' and CJeS Entertainment's CJeS Culture, with Kim Junsu at the forefront, among other ent. companies, have been helpful by figuring out the workings of the industry. Jellyfish Entertainment (management for VIXX etc) also shows a high interest musicals, although not yet producing any themselves. Many of VIXX's members and Park Jeong-ah from the Jewelry are active in musicals. Casting idols, however, does not guarantee box office success. A Daehakro [theatre district] original musical had casted an idol only to close the run a month earlier than planned. Industry insiders say "Idol casting is not a free pass for success. Productions need to determine their appropriate size and vibe first, then cast idols." Crayon Pop's Choa is someone who has tread along this path. Largely unnoticed in the beginning, Choa had established herself as a musical theatre actress after consistently making appearances in musicals like 'The Last Princess,' 'Hero' and 'Laundry.' She is further cementing her actress status by sticking with her real name Heoh Minjin instead of using her stage name, Choa. Musical theatre critic, Prof. Won Jongwon of Suncheonhyang Univ. remarked that "her acting was natural and her vocals, not bad."
The impression that idol participation in musicals are merely perfunctory, a problem in the past, has also lessened. The musical industry had been full of complaints that idols do not show up for rehearsals and ruin team spirit. These complaints are heard less these days. An insider says "the perception of musicals has changed among idols and they are increasingly prioritizing musicals over other projects." A staff from a "musical idol" management adds "idols have been training since they were young and work in teams even after their debut, so they are used to large group dynamics and are able to seamlessly fit in with other musical actors."
Who is the best "musical idol" according to musical theatre experts? It comes as no surprise that they choose Kim Junsu. Critic and president of the Korea Musical Association, Lee Yuri, remarks, "Kim Junsu is still the icon of idol-cum-musical theatre actors in all respects: his passion, work ethic, attitude towards the field, ability to interpret musicals and star power. Director Park also cites Kim Junsu as the idol to watch. "With that raspy voice, he has a mysterious appeal that is irreplaceable when he plays otherworldly characters." Prof. Won remarks that "while his vocal style is not perfectly suited for musical theatre, his compelling voice tone is able to convey drama." Yu Heeseong, president of Seoul Performing Arts Company says "he has a serious approach to musical theatre and a great work ethic. He is an outstanding dancer, singer and actor."Coming second was Ock Joohyun. Yu relates that "hard work is a given with her. She is a talented actress you can trust will deliver." Prof. Won says "Ock Joohyun honed her appeal as an actress with the strong character she played in 'Rebecca' and pioneered a realm of her own that is hard to compare with other actors with idol backgrounds." Which up-and-coming "musical idols" are experts most looking forward to see? For Prof. Ji, it is Lim Sihwan. Lim Sihwan started out as the boyband ZE:A and made his theatre debut with the musical 'Joseph Amazing.' He quickly moved on, however, to TV dramas and films. Prof. Ji adds that she hopes "to see the sensitive emotional portrayals he has shown on TV and in movies on the theatre stage, too." Columnist Kwon chose another member of ZE:A, Park Hyungshik, over Lim. Park Hyungshik did his first musical in 2011('Temptation of Wolves') and has often returned to the stage since. He is currently set to play Tod in 'Elisabeth,' a role that has become a star-maker after being played by Kim Junsu and Park Hyoshin. Kwon notes that "it's easy to think that anyone who can sing can also do musicals, but musicals are a composite art form. It's hard to find an actor as well-rounded as Park, not just among idols but among all existing actors in their 20s." Pres. Yu picks Suho from EXO for "his serious approach, stage presence and bold energy." Director Park cited someone who has yet to make their debut in musicals - IU. While she has never been part of an idol group, her age and fandom roughly puts her in the category of idols. The industry predicts she will receive enormous attention if she debuts in musicals, given her singing and acting abilities as well as her popularity. ◇ Idols that made their debut in musicals in the 2000s Bada, Ock Joohyun, Lee Chang-hee, Son Hoyoung, Oh Jonghyuk, Seungri, Daeseong ◇ Idols that made their debut in musicals in the 2010s JYJ Kim Junsu; DBSK Uknow Yunho; Girls' Generation Taeyeon, Tiffany, Jessica, Sunny, Seohyun; Babyb VOX Shim Eunjin, Kan Miyoun; Super Junior Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Seongmin; Shinee Key, Onew; 2PM Jun.K, Chanseong; 2AM Changmin, Jo Kwon; CSJH The Grace Dana, Rina; BEAST Jang Hyunseung; Highlight Yang Yoseob, Son Dongwoon; Infinite Seonggyu, Woohyun, Jang Dongwoo; Former Infinite Hoya; BTOB Seo Eungwang, Lee Changseob; B1A4 Sandeul, Shinwoo; Wonder Girls Yeun; Apink Jung Eunji; FT Island Lee Jaejin; ZE:A Lim Sihwan, Park Hyungshik; Boyfriend Donghyun, Jungmin, Hyungseong; BAP Jung Daehyun; f(x) Luna; Former Jewelry Park Jeong-ah; Former Fiestar Linzy; Former BESTie Yuji; Former Crayon Pop Choa; VIXX Leo, Ken, N; Block B UKwon, Jaehyo; EXO Suho; HOT Kangta
[초점]아이돌, 생존 수단 아니라 좋아서 하는 뮤지컬···최고스타 김준수·기대 배우 임시완 2018.09.17. 【서울=뉴시스】 이재훈 기자 = 11월18일까지 광림아트센터 BBCH홀에서 공연하는 체코 뮤지컬 '아이언 마스크' 라이선스 초연에는 인기 아이돌 그룹 멤버들이 총출동한다. 'B1A4' 산들, '비투비' 이창섭, '인피니트' 장동우, '빅스' 켄 등 아이돌 4명이 '루이 14세' 역으로 쿼드러플 캐스팅됐다. 대극장 뮤지컬의 한 배역에 아이돌을 한두 명씩 발탁하는 것은 이제 당연해졌다. 하지만 한 배역을 모두 아이돌로 캐스팅하는 건 드문 일이다.