|From left, musical "The Story of My Life" cast Ryu Jung-han, Lee Suk-jun, Lee Chang-yong and Shin Sung-rok. [OD Musical Company]|
Press conference for musical "Story of My Life"
This summer, fans of musicals will be able to see veteran musical actors Ryu Jung-han and Lee Suk-jun, who made their debut over ten years ago, and fresh newcomers Shin Sung-rok and Lee Chang-yong, who dreamt of being musical stars watching them on stage. The press conference for the musical "Story of My Life," about the thirty-year friendship between characters Thomas (played by Ryu Jung-han and Shin Sung-rok) and Elvin (played by Lee Suk-jun and Lee Chang-yong), was held May 31 at Seoul's Dongsoong Art Center.
There was another reason besides the casting of these four very different actors that "Story," which first premiered on Broadway in March 2009, caused a stir; Shin Chun-soo, President of OD Musical and one of the producers for the original Broadway show, would be directing the local production. The five lyrical musical numbers revealed at the press conference reinforced what Shin said about the show -- that it is "going in the opposite direction of the current trend in the musical market." Below is the joint interview with the five men of "Story," which will run at Dongsoong Art Hall from July 13 through September 19.
Q: You were one of the producers for the original Broadway production in 2009. What made you decide to make the local version?
Shin Chun-soo: Actually, you could say that "Story" is a musical that goes in the opposite direction of the current popular trend in Korea's musical market, one that goes against the general trend. Many recent musical productions focus on showing fancy stage mechanisms, but this show started from my desire to tell an honest, simple story between two actors that I saw on Broadway in 2009.
Q: Can you give a brief introduction of the musical?
Shin: I am newcomer director Shin Chun-soo. (laugh) There are two characters in the musical -- Thomas and Elvin. They have been friends for a long time but have grown apart. Then Thomas hears of Elvin's death. The story begins with Thomas returning home to keep the promise the two made -- that when one of them dies first, the other would write a eulogy for him.
Shin Sung-rok: Thomas is a writer whose best-selling book was inspired by his precious friend Elvin.
Lee Chang-yong (Lee): Elvin is an innocent friend who has remained the same over the years. You know, one of those crazy, unconventional buddies from your childhood days? He is one of those buddies. (laugh)
Lee Suk-jun (Lee SJ): This musical is hard to explain because the story doesn't play out chronologically but through how Thomas remembers things from his imagination. Thomas eventually discovers through his dead friend Elvin the old memories that he couldn't find himself. Like the last song "Angel In The Snow," it is saying that everything Thomas will be writing from now on will remain Elvin and Thomas' memories. It is sending the message that our story will go on forever through our friendship and through everything that we saw -- a rock, wave, sky or movie we saw together. I think it is a story that gives the message that such things surpass friendship and exist inside you and me.
Ryu Jung-han (Ryu): I did a two-person play in 2007 for the premiere production of "Thrill Me" and I'm doing it again with "Story." I feel as much excitement as burden about it. Once the show starts, I think there will be a lot of comparison made to "Thrill Me" and I hope to find what I had lost by the time the show ends its run. I think it will be a chance for me to feel quietly moved and think about the things that I had forgotten about. But I can't really understand the character Thomas even after reading the script many times. I will have to keep trying to find out.
Q: It wasn't too long ago that play "A Streetcar Named Desire" ended. What parts of the musical attracted you?
Lee SJ: I think I was truly happy with the story when I first read the script. I am actually curious how the musical will touch the audience. As a veteran, non-mainstream actor, (laugh) I have pride in myself for having done many two- or three-person plays over the years. But in "Story," perfect chemistry between the two actors is so crucial that it could either make or break the show. I think people are growing tired of the current show-type musical these days. Many musicals try to force certain emotions into its audience, as if to say "This is what we have for you hence what you should feel" but "Story" doesn't try to force viewers into feeling sad. Just like the saying, "even though it is a sad song, don't sing it in a sad way," one can feel one's heart warming when it hears a sincere story.
Q: Shin Sung-rok, you have taken on the same role as Ryu Jung-han, just like you did in "Monte Cristo."
Shin SR: I was rehearsing for "Monte Cristo" when one day, Ryu asked if I would want to work [on "Story"] with him. I didn't know what it would be about but I said, "It would be an honor for me to even just stand on the same stage as you." I had really wanted to do a musical where its structure allows only two or three actors take the lead, and "Story" was that very kind of production. I took on the production just for the fact that I would be getting to work with such great musical actors. I wanted to stand on stage with Ryu but I guess I won't be doing that technically because we're playing the same role. (laugh)
Q: You're working on the same production but was a producer for it on Broadway while you're directing it in Korea. What are the points you are focusing on as a director?
Shin CS: I wanted to give "Story" a shot in Korea even though it didn't run for long on Broadway. Each and every one of the creators who took part in this production are amazing but I personally believe that Korean actors are better at expressing their emotions than American actors so that is why the casting was very important. Also, unlike the U.S production, I plan on putting on a lighter show whose stage will hopefully contain just the energy the actor gives off as well his acting skills. This musical has to approach the audience in an honest and light fashion. That's where I'm betting my stakes.
Q: You were introduced as a newcomer director but you actually made your directorial debut in 2007 with "Spelling Bee." What is the lesson that you learned from the trial and error that you experienced back then?
Shin CS: Honestly, I decided to take on "Spelling Bee" with the thought that there was no director who had a true understanding of the production. I received a lot of help in understanding the actors in a psychological sense when I worked as a member of the crew rather than as a producer who has to overlook everything and I also gained a better understanding of the crew I worked with. On the other hand, I took on that [production] with the mindset that I want to pull out the energy from within me rather than as a producer with 10 years of experience under his belt but there were many distressing incidents and pressure that I felt while rehearsing. So due to that experience with "Spelling Bee," I think I was able to become more flexible. But with it only being ten days since we started rehearsing, I am still a bit stiff because of my desire to be judged as a new director. I felt that I failed to freely express my thoughts outwardly because of the thought of wanting to do my best and being nervous. I talked a lot with the actors whenever I felt that way. These four actors are very reliable and even though I lack the experience, they give me inspiration and passion. A performance is an actor's art. If I know which direction I want to take the show and I have decided where I'll focus my story, I think I will get good critiques alongside the actors. I want this emotional production to remain in the minds of the audience for a long time; I feel that I am filled with a lot of greed at this moment.
Q: You put on musical "Dream Girls" in Korea and Broadway. What are the differences between the audience in the United States versus Korea?
Shin CS: The Korean audience is a lot younger compared to the Broadway audience. So they are full of energy but there is no uniformity. The Korean audience are great at analyzing and immersing into the production but they are scary. The Korean musical market is young but needs to mature more. Accordingly, there may be a lot of variation in terms of how quickly or slowly the market develops but the audience needs to watch a wider range of shows. There is a so-called mania culture which guides public opinion but they have to be accepted by the wider public and I believe such maturity will help expand and develop the industry.
Q: What kind of emotions are you hoping to deliver to the audience through "Story?"
Shin CS: "Story" contains too much emotion that it cannot be told just by telling the story of the friendship of two men. It aims to pull out the emotions that we should cherish but have forgotten about and buried. Love is what's important about living life but you start forgetting these things, one by one, because you are too busy with living your life. That's why I hope you will get to think about love and the values we should cherish through watching this musical. I hope people will feel that the musical has given them the chance to think about the things and people that are important to them.
Shin SR: The director said earlier that the musical isn't mainstream but I hope you'll regard it as a new type of musical which deviates from the typical structure. It'll depend on how the actors tell the story but I think it could be understood easily.
Lee SJ: I personally hope that the audience will become so overcome with emotion after watching the musical that they will want to write a letter to a close friend.