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Celebrities Return to Theater

2008/02/27 Source

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By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

Once actors move on from the humble theater to the big screen, they reminisce over the hardships of those times, but also heave a sigh of relief that they're finally over.

However, they still come back to the stage returning to their roots.

The stage is becoming an attractive arena for movie stars and singers. This coming spring, a star-studded line-up of musicals and plays are awaiting the audience.

Veteran actress Yang Hee-kyung will return to the stage in the play "Minja's Golden Age", two years since starring in the play "Old Prostitute's Song".

"Minja's Golden Age" portrays the relationship between Park Min-ja and her daughter. Min-ja, who abandoned her daughter and her home 10 years ago, suddenly decides to return home. Yang will play the role of Min-ja, a singer who works at a nightclub. The play will be staged at Yesul Madang in Daehangno, central Seoul, March 6.

Ha Hee-ra, an actress who has appeared in many hit soap operas and films, will also return to theaters with "The Goodbye Girl", a romantic comedy musical, to be staged at Baekam Arts Hall, starting from March 28.

The production focuses on Elliot, who sublets a friend's Manhattan apartment only to discover it's still occupied by his friend's ex-girlfriend and former dancer Paula, played by Ha, and her daughter Lucy. She will perform with comedian-turned-actor Jung Sung-hwa.

Ha performed in the musical "Nonsense" in 1998 and "Why We Dream of Lovers", a monodrama, in 2004.

Actress Chu Sang-mi returns to tread the boards with the play "Blackbird", which will be staged for the first time in Korea as a local production. She married Lee Suk-joon, one of the rising musical stars last November.

The play begins with Una, played by Choo, who unexpectedly drops in at the office of her former lover, Ray. The last time they saw each other was 15 years ago when he was 40 and she was 12. The play will go on stage in Dongsoong Art Center on March 21.

Choi Hwa-jung, actress and a renowned host on radio and TV shows, returns once again as Rita in "Educating Rita", a popular play in Korea. Choi previously played the part when it premiered in 1991.

The play unfolds a story in which Rita, a hairdresser, realizes her dream as she meets her tutor, Frank Bryant, an unsuccessful middle-aged academic. The play will hit the stage at Hansol Wonder Space (former Sadari Art Center) starting from March 14.

So Yoo-jin will make her musical career debut in a hit home-grown musical, "Singing in the Rain", which will be staged at Inkel Art Hall in central Seoul from March 19.

Previously, singers such as Son Ho-young ― starring in the musical "Singles", Choi Seong-hee (known as Bada, former member of top girl group S.E.S.) ― in the Korean adaptation of "Notre Dame de Paris", and Ock Joo-hyun ― in "Chicago", drew public attention.

Why are star-studded theater performances becoming a trend? Under the term "star marketing", sales promotions and brand value are enhanced by linking celebrities to the product.

Won Jong-won, musical critic and professor of Soonchunghyang University, said that the prolonged depression of the film and record industries, due to illegal downloads and copyright infringements, partly contributed to the trend of singers and movie stars looking to the stage.

"The performing arts are irreproducible. And the barriers between the genres have been torn down. So many movie stars and top singers find ways to survive through the productions as the performing arts industry is expanding", Won told The Korea Times.

According to InterPark ENT, the number of musicals and plays rose by 25 percent from 1,796 in 2006 to 2,244 in 2007. However, according to the Korean Film Council, the number of Korean films inched from 108 in 2006 to 112 in 2007. Also, only 13 films or 11.6 percent broke even. Also, the local record industry is also suffering a big slump.

Won said, however, another main reason is that the stage arts are designed to be long term project, 10 to 20 years or for as long as the audience wants to see the performance. So it is natural for the performing industry to seek stronger powers to attract the audience.

"The local theatrical industry is now undergoing a difficult transitional period, although the market is expanding rapidly, with it comes quality problems. Many theater-goers are rushing to the theaters just to see stars, which drive a strong performance in the box office", Won said.

Won said that the star-oriented casting is often found in other countries like on Broadway in the U.S. or the West End in London, England. But in such cases as these, big-name stars such as Antonio Banderas and Vanessa Williams solely concentrate on the productions and cease all other activities.

"But in Korea, many high-profile stars do two or more other projects at the same time, resulting in bad performances. In that case, celebrity marketing backfires. Not all stars guarantee the success of the performance", said Won.

Citing a survey in London, he said the largest number of the London theater-goers choose to watch a particular performance through word of mouth, followed by the media reviews. But those who are swayed by the star-studded casting account for less than 8 percent, he said.

"It shows the Korean audience has not yet reached a maturity level where they enjoy the performance for the quality, as they are still influenced by the celebrity power", he said.

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