For years, Western musicals have been mainstays on Asian stages, from Takarazuka's all-female versions of American classics, to Korean cast recordings of Evita. For two weeks this summer, however, the tables will turn, as an all-Korean musical goes into Manhattan's Lincoln Center Aug. 15-24.
Produced and directed by Ho Jin Yun, The Last Empress comes to New York with a $1 million budget, 80 performers and over 600 costumes. Featuring elements of both opera and Broadway musicals, Empress will use English supertitles to tell its true story of Korea's Queen Min. A charismatic leader, Min saw the modernization of Korea during the mid 1800s, only to be assassinated by the Japanese in 1895. With her husband, King Kojong, Min helped open the ports of the "Hermit Kingdom" to foreign powers. Something of an Evita of her time, Queen Min is viewed as both power-hungry manipulator and visionary modernist. The Queen's death eventually led to Korea's liberation from Japan.
Kwang Lim Kim and Yun adapted the Min story from Mun Yol Yi's book, The Fox Hunt. Composer Hee Gab Kim and lyricist In Ja Yang combined on the score, which is orchestrated by Peter Casey. Kolleen Park serves as musical director. Byung Koo Seo choreographs.
Designing The Last Empress are Dong Woo Park (sets), Hyun Sook Kim (costumes), and Hyung O Choi & Yong Yun Park (lighting). The Arts Communications Seoul Company (A-Com) is producing this big-budget epic, running Aug. 15-24 and officially opening Aug. 19. Featuring colorful Korean dress patterned after the Chosun Kingdom (1392-1910), Empress will also feature a full shaman ritual sequence.
Two actresses alternate as Min: Taewon Kim, who plays Lady Thiang in the current Broadway King And I, and Korean actress Won Kung Kim (not related). Jae Hwan Lee plays the King's father; Sung Ki Kim plays the ambassador of Japan. Songs in the show have such titles as, "Soft Is The Spring Breeze," "The Sky Is Darkening," "Grow Big And Strong Dear Prince," "Until The World Needs Me Again," and "There's A Star In My Heart."
For tickets ($25-$60) and information on The Last Empress, call (212) 307-4100.
--By David Lefkowitz