[2021 Xcalibur Review] Good Enough for the West End

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

"For lost dreams"

If you look over the stage before the show starts, you will see tree vines intertwining their way up and down the sides and across the top. You will hear sound effects of rain and thunder while the curtains serve as a screen against which images and texts tell the backstory of the musical.

Musical <Xcalibur> is a tale set in ancient Britain where one man fated to be king overcomes inner struggles to grow into his role. It had its world premiere in Korea in 2019.

Back in 2021 for a 2nd run, the musical has diversified its appeal by changing the introductory scenes, adding new numbers and amplifying the stage art. The changes made to Morgana's narrative arc, in particular, has smoothed out wrinkles from the previous version.

"A grander and more beautiful production"

"Make every moment interesting" was director Kwon Euna's mantra when she proceeded to revise the script. Rechecking every moment of every scene, she boldly shortened or cut out any parts deemed boring or not particularly meaningful, as explained in the program book. I think it would suffice to say that the staging has completely changed.

Looking at Act 1 alone, the sets are all different from the ones seen at Sejong Theater. The opening music led by drums and followed by strings is imposing and LED lights planted inside decorative vines light up, bottom to top, as if giving life to the trees surrounding the stage.

It seems the know-hows taken from musicals <Mata Hari> and <The Man Who Laughs> were also utilized here, with lasers and optical fibers providing new spectacles for the audience. The mount upon which Excalibur is perched looks lower than before but what was lost in height was made up for by quantity: 3 smaller rock mountains have replaced one, providing more freedom in configuration.

The special effects that accompany the wizards Merlin and Morgana are on par with the effects that were shown in various licensed international productions.

The acoustics of Blue Square is another important element in completing the production and the sound distribution as well as the sound of the live orchestra render an audio experience similar to watching an action movie at a movie theatre. The high quality of sound design especially comes into effect for the last battle scene.

One can't help but applaud the investment made into such a production during the Corona pandemic. The various stage art that <Xcalibur> employs demonstrate that it has become a blockbuster original musical worthy of being introduced to a global audience.

"Actors add the finishing touch"

The second season of <Xcalibur> once again places our hopes on Arthur, who finally sees the potential he has inside of himself and becomes a symbol of optimism.

On the day I attended, Kim Junsu was performing and, unlike the maximized huskiness he had showcased in his previous musical <Dracula>, his voice was clear and youthful. I'm not sure whether he intended it that way but it suited the character of Arthur. *

* Junsu did say in a previous interview that he uses different vocalizations for <Dracula> and <Xcalibur>.

Two cast members who complete the production are Son Junho (as Merlin) and Shin Youngsook (as Morgana.) Son Junho plays the wizard Merlin, a secretive aid to Arthur, who makes thunderous entrances and gives equally thunderous renditions of his numbers. The revisions made to Morgana's arc increases its plausibility and improves the overall flow of the musical.

<Xcalibur> strikes a good balance between the Arthur-centric protagonist narrative and that of antagonist Wolfstan, leader of the invading Saxons. The Saxon horde also provide various entertainment in the form of acrobatics and b-boying. Guinevere is another character supporting the story as a strong and independent female figure who proclaims "I am a warrior before I am a queen."

"Good enough for the West End"

CJ ENM made Broadway's <Kinky Boots> a hit [in Korea] and musicals like <Moulin Rouge> and <Back to the Future> are in the line-up for future openings. EMK seems to have had its eye on international markets since the planning stages of <Xcalibur> as the musical opened in 2019 under the heading 'world premiere.'

Now in its second running, musical <Xcalibur> meets global standards with diversified staging and an upgraded story. It may even be good enough to launch in UK's West End, though with caution.

Local tweaking will be necessary but in terms of basic hardware, <Xcalibur> is a cut above the average; with general themes like rage vs control and good vs evil, it's safe to say we have witnessed the birth of a musical with universal appeal.

WITHINNEW Kim Youngshik

"사라진 꿈을 위해"