Ten Years Hamlet the Musical

Today, on Buddha’s Birthday, I walked past some posters for this year’s revival, the 10th anniversary of the Korean production (see here for details), nonetheless, in a tunnel in Yeonnam-dong, a gentrifying neighborhood known for its increasing density of artistic cafés, fancy restaurants, and guesthouses.

I read about this long-seller musical, an import from Czechia, while doing research on popular productions of Shakespeare in Korea, for a chapter of my dissertation that focuses on Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project” (타루, 판소리 햄릿 프로젝트, see some blogposts on this ongoing project).

Yeeyon Im (임이연, all following quotes are from two of her papers, from 2012 and 2016, see below for bibliographic details), whose criticism of “Koreanized” Shakespeare proved highly fruitful in my discussion of Lee Yun-taek’s Hamlet, highlights the decreasing importance of the “high-brow legitimacy” – as “ready-made cultural prestige” – that the “Shakespeare Brand” used to imply (2016: 83).

She discusses post-milennial adaptations aiming at general audiences, particularly spectators in their 20s and 30s who tend to be more interested in musicals than conventional theatre. She notes that most of them “remain highbrow, even when they attempt to popularize the Bard.” (2012: 65)

75 2017-05-19 ~ 07-23 디큐브아트센터 뮤지컬 햄릿 posterA typical commercial production with potential for a glocalized reception is Musical Hamlet, a Czech mega-musical that presents the plot as a “tragic romance” close to a melodrama (2016: 80). With songs in Korean translation and a largely non-Korean production team, Musical Hamlet (뮤지컬 햄릿) was shown with success in Seoul between 2007 and 2011. At first, it was presented as “a work that preserves the depth of Shakespeare’s classic and at the same time shows a modern man Hamlet completely different from the classic” (Season One programme, 2007; transl. and qtd. in 2016: 86). But as this marketing (supposedly) resulted in unsatisfying ticket turnouts, the name of Shakespeare (the “S-word”) was down-played throughout the following re-runs (2016: 86).

Now, “after six years of waiting” (6년 간의 기다림 끝에) as the 2017 poster proudly announces, Musical Hamlet returns, with the additional label of “rock opera musical” (in the top right corner of the poster).

The production employs famous actors and eroticized imagery, relying only marginally on the “Shakespeare Brand”. The S-word appears only in small typeface, shadowed by the keywords “love” and “desire” (사랑, 욕망), presumably in fear of suggesting boredom rather than high-class entertainment.

This teaser video doesn’t mention Shakespeare either (as does another, visually slightly different one):

The extended information on Youtube note that “Hamlet, as Shakespeare’s major play, is receiving the most love around the world” (셰익스피어의 대표작이자 전세계에서 가장 많은 사랑을 받은 작품 ‘햄릿’). I couldn’t take a closer look at the dedicated website, as of now…

Not sure if I can make it this time, the entrance fee is rather steep, starting at 70,000 KRW (some 50,- Euro). I’d like to find out, however, what the non-canonical character “Helena” (헬레나), a “good woman who always guards Ophelia’s side” is all about – fabricated opportunity for another female supporting actor or dramatic device in this game of passion? In any case, certainly an interesting event for anyone interested in commercial globalized musical, Korean Shakespeare, and popular culture in general – so I guess I should go!

– 3 May 2017 (水)

  • Im, Yeeyon. 2016. “To Love or Not to Be: Janek Ledecký’s Musical Hamlet and Shakespeare Negotiations in Korea.” Popular Entertainment Studies 7.1–2: 75–92. Full text link
  • 임이연. 2012. “셰익스피어 대중문화와 한국의 실제: 2000년대 연극산업을 중심으로 (Shakespeare and Popular Culture in Korea: Theatre Industry in the New Millennium).” 밀턴과근세영문학 22.1: 41–66. DBpia
  • Musical “Hamlet”. Script, composition: Janec Ledecky, adaptation: Robert Johanson, English lyrics: Janec Ledecky, George Harvilla, Vince Parrillo, arrangement: Martin Kumzak, director: Robert Johanson, Korean lyrics: Wang Yong-beom, Bak In-seon, Won Mi-sol, Bak Ji-hye, music director: Won Mi-sol, choreography: Jayme McDaniel, with Lee Ji-hun, Sin U, Seo Eun-gwang (Hamlet), Lee Jeong-hwa, Choe Seo-yeon (Ophelia), Min Yeong-gi, Kim Jun-hyeon (Claudius), Jeon Su-mi, An Yu-jin (Gertrude) etc., Production: DQ Art Center, with Soribada, Misom ENC, May 19 to July 23, 2017, entrance fee from 70,000 to 130,000 KRW, reservation via Interpark.
  • 뮤지컬 〈햄릿〉, 대본/작곡: 야넥 레데츠키, 각색: 로버트 요한슨, 영어가사: 야넥 레데츠키, 조지 하빌야, 빈스 팔리오, 편곡: 마틴 쿰작, 연출: 로버트 요한슨, 한국어가사: 왕용범, 박인선, 원미솔, 박지혜, 합력연출: 박지혜, 음악감독: 원미솔, 안무: 제이미 백다니엘, 출연: 이지훈, 신우, 서은광 (햄릿), 이정화, 최서연 (오필리어), 민영기, 김준현 (클라우디우스), 전수미, 안유진 (거투르트) 등, 주최: (주)더길, 주관: 소리바다, (주)미솜이엔씨, 디큐브아트센터, 2017년 5월 19일 ~ 7월 23일, 입장료: 70–130,000원, 예매: 인터파크.
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About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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