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‘KPOP’: New musical brings energetic world of K-pop to Broadway

There are some familiar storylines in a new musical opening on Broadway – a singer and her relationship with the mentor who mentored her; a newcomer trying to find his place; young women chasing their dreams.

But they’ve never sounded like that before.

The global sensation that is Korean pop music takes center stage in KPOPwhich opens Sunday at the Circle in the Square Theater.

Featuring an almost all-Asian American and Asian cast, many of whom are making their Broadway debuts, the musical is a backstage look at some of the K-pop performers as they get ready for their New York City debut show. Conflicts break out and are resolved, ending in a concert-like performance.

The show’s arrival on Broadway has been a long time coming for playwright Jason Kim, who first conceived a K-pop play about a decade ago and staged an off-Broadway version in 2017, with music and lyrics composed by Helen Park and Max Vernon.

Born in South Korea, Kim came to the United States as a child and settled in the Midwest with his family. K-pop has been a fixture in his life, as have Korean television dramas. He also enjoyed musical theatre, especially shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Dreamgirls”, where the story is about what goes on behind the scenes.

“I like backstage shows,” he said. ‘Is there a fight between everyone? Do they all love each other? Those are the questions I asked myself.”

In the show’s first stage version, Kim introduced K-pop’s machine to an American audience largely unfamiliar with it; five years later, it’s been rewritten for a world where K-pop musical heavy-hitters like BTS and Blackpink are the mainstays of the charts, amidst a slew of other Korean entertainments in movies and television, like “Squid Games,” which are becoming increasingly popular. becoming more popular in the US as well.

At the time, America “didn’t really know what K-pop was, so I had to explain a lot. … This time I didn’t really have to take the position that I had to apologize for something or explain something, and just let the story unfold,” said Kim, a writer in television and film.

He called the timing “really coincidental.”

“It was really profound and moving to see the world change in this way.”

A Broadway musical with the sounds of K-pop is a sign of how “the US is finally catching up with what was already going on in the world,” said Robert Ji-Song Ku, an associate professor of Asian American studies at Binghamton. University .

K-pop has grown in popularity worldwide over the past 20 years, though other attempts to break into the U.S. market over the years haven’t had the same success until recently, he said.

“If there’s a spectrum of universality, K-pop is designed to be as universal as possible,” he said.

Casting the show took about two years, Kim said, with open calls in both the US and South Korea. Some of those on the show have a K-pop background, including Luna, a former member of the group f(x), who plays the lead character of MwE, a singer who spent years pursuing her dreams and has come to a crossroads . .

It’s a step forward for Asian-American representation on Broadway, which is very important to Kim.

“That talent exists, and they just need a platform,” he said. “So it was very important to me to put these Asian people on stage and see them not play the typical roles that they play, but play rock stars, play pop stars, dance their faces off and take their faces off and just be spectacular. ”

Park called the experience an honor for her part.

“K-pop and Broadway have been my passion for a long time; K-pop has been like comfort food to me, and Broadway has been my seemingly unattainable dream, as there haven’t been many Asian composers let alone Asian female composers I can see and dream to be,” she said in an e-mail. . “To be able to bring something that feels like home to my dream stage, Broadway, feels like the most wonderful gift I will cherish for a lifetime.”

Kim said it was also important for the show to include some Korean between the English, both in the songs and the dialogues.

It’s “a way to be really authentic in the experience of K-pop idols and Korean people,” Kim said, pointing out that “when I’m talking to my mom, I switch back and forth all the time depending on what we’re talking about.”

“The design of the show’s bilingual nature was very deliberate.”

Obviously, a K-pop musical has a built-in base of potential audience members. But Kim says there’s something for everyone, even those who’ve never heard a K-pop song.

“Hopefully, if we do our job well, you’ll be watching a fun musical with a bunch of great K-pop songs,” he said. “But what you get when you leave the theater is really a universal story.”

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