Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Korean Les Miserables

 I saw Korean Les Miserables!

Wifeoseyo got us tickets for the January 1st matinee, and Juniorseyo got to learn the amazing story of Jean Valjean and the people who sing their dialogues.

I'm a little jokey, but the show was seriously impressive. There were some moments of staging that surprised me, even after having watched the Les Miserables anniversary dvd, the movie, the other movie, the other other movie, and the other other other movie, and memorized the soundtrack forwards and backwards as a teen in the 1990s, basically learning how to sing with a vibrato from imitating Colm Wilkinson... and then tormenting my family with that vibrato for every shower until I moved out.

Here is the cast I saw:

Jean Valjean was good, Javert was very very good, but the two who stole the show for me were Thenardier ("Master of the house") and Eponine ("On my own") -- Eponine was played by Kim Soo-ha, who... I don't know what else to say except she's the real deal. Eponine has always been my favorite character in Les Miserables, be it book, movie, other movie, other other movie, other other other movie, or musical. Her death scene (sorry: spoilers for a book written in 1832...) is the scene that always makes me cry. (Yeah I'll admit it. Manly men cry manly tears.) Ms. Kim went so effortlessly from sweet, aegyo-style to "feigned carefree street urchin" to "doomed, tragic, forlorn would-be lover" in her acting, and her vocals were... yeah. They were on point.

Thenardier was the other show-stopper. Thenardier's role goes from comical (as a crooked hotel keeper) to suspicious (as a career criminal in Paris) to terrifying and even demonic ("Dog Eats Dog" pickpocketing corpses after the failed uprising) to pathetic (at the Marius and Cosette's wedding) over the course of the musical, and 임기흥 (Lim Gi-heung) lit up the stage with all those moods, with 박준면 (Park Joon-myeon) holding her own admirably as his opposite, Madame Thenardier. The way he moved, the sliminess and pathos. He reminded me, oddly, but poignantly, of a lot of older men of his generation here in Korea -- who grew up, like him, in poverty, and developed the same dishonest hardscrabble survival skills: those characters you see in movies (and hope you don't meet in life) who will steal your pension and blow it on bad investments and sex workers before looking for their next mark, all with that sad, hang-dog face of a person who was abandoned by the system before they started exploiting it for their own gain.

The whole show was performed in Korean, which didn't really matter to me because (as I said) in the '90s I learned the whole dang musical from front to back and back to front: this was less bewildering than seeing Billy Elliot or Wicked or Jekyll and Hyde all in Korean (musicals I don't know back to front).

Now, there's something to be said for seeing a musical in a language you can't follow 100%, just because in the same way they say blind people compensate for their blindness with sensitivity in other senses, not being able to follow the lyrics (and normally I am VERY MUCH a lyrics guy), it heightens my awareness of costume, lighting, acting, choreography, staging, and all the rest. I'd be able to talk about that stuff in more depth with the shows I didn't know back to front (I did always do a little reading up beforehand), just because I was paying so much attention to the other elements to keep up.

Anyway, if you can understand sung Korean and love musical theater and powerhouse performances, or if you love Les Miserables no matter, catch a showing while you can! It's playing at the Blue Square theater over the hill from Itaewon.

Two things sat a little weird with me...

One was Javert's suicide song... performing a musical in which one of the main characters ends his own life by jumping off a bridge... in a city where there is a serious suicide problem involving people ending their lives by jumping off Seoul's various bridges... kind of sat wrong.

The other thing was, in the theater lobby, as they often do, they'd set up little photo-op mini-stages. On one floor, there was a barricade you could climb up, and be photographed holding the iconic red flag. Coolcoolcool.

But the other photo-op spot was... a recreation of the bridge where Inspector Javert killed himself.

Ew. It was pretty, but... ew. Ew ew ew. Am I taking things too seriously? Oh, maybe. But once that thought occurred to me, that Inspector Javert's most famous song ends in his self-termination... well, that photo op set didn't sit right, either.

The bridge photo-op set. (Source)

Other than that twinge... I'd still wholeheartedly recommend seeing the show... three times if you can!

But here was the thought that got me to click the "write a new post" button:

I am not quite enough of a theater kid to be up on every musical that The Theater Kids love, but an odd parallel just occurred to me.

See, when I was a Christian Contemporary Music listener in the 80s and 90s, there was a steady progression of albums by Christian artists that were the ones that kind of took over the CCMosphere -- the albums that everyone had, everyone listened to, and every young person knew all the lyrics to.

Starting in the 1980s, everyone around me knew, loved, sang along to, Heart In Motion by Amy Grant, then Free At Last by DC Talk, then Going Public by Newsboys, Jesus Freak by DC Talk, Jars of Clay, by Jars of Clay, and somewhere around there I got off the train and lost track of what came next.

Funny thing is, I'm realizing that The Theater Kids have the same thing -- for a couple of years, everybody loves Les Miserables, and then Miss Saigon, and Rent a little later, and Wicked a little later than that, and then something else... and everybody learns the lyrics, sings along to the songs, people doing auditions get sick of hearing the same song choices, and add subheadings to audition notices "No songs from Dear Evan Hansen, PLEASE" and then a new musical either wins a bunch of Tony Awards or releases its official soundtrack, and it happens again. I know that Wicked was IT for a while, and Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton, but clearly, I have gaps in my chronology.

So if one of my readers is A Theater Kidtm, and knows the chronology of which musicals were the "it" musical for a while that every high school theater kid felt spoke deep to their heart... I'd love it, I mean really love it, if you put that chronology in my comments, or shared a link to the blog where someone's written it out. That'd be awesome and I'd love you forever. 

Anyway, I'm going to go and try to figure out which of the many many soundtracks to Les Mis was the version we had in the car during that drive across Canada in 1994, because my ears will not accept any other version of Inspector Javert. (I'll include a link or youtube clip if I find it... but sometimes they're hard to find, because a few of my favorites were from the Toronto Cast Recording, which is harder to track down than the West End or Broadway soundtracks.)