SOUTH KOREA - Musical actress Park Ji-yeon grew up listening to music, always wearing her earphones. As a teen, her first crush was a guitarist in a school rock band. Her favourite singer? Michael Bolton.
"When my teacher told me to study at the back of the classroom, I would listen to Michael Bolton instead," Park said in an interview with The Korea Herald. "And I remember breaking down in tears after listening to his song, 'How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.' I was 18 at the time, and the lyrics just got to me. It was always music that made me laugh and cry. I learned how to live through music."
And music continues to dominate her life. The 25-year-old, who is currently starring as Molly in the on-going show "Ghost the Musical," is one of the most successful emerging actresses in the local performing arts scene.
The former rock 'n' roll lover who "had never watched a musical before turning 20," landed her first musical role ― Sophie in "Mamma Mia!" ― through an open audition back in 2010 with a blank resume. She then secured the role of Eponine in last year's Seoul run of Cameron Mackintosh's "Les Miserables."
Yoon Eun-ji of the Seensee Company, the local producer of "Mamma Mia!" and "Ghost the Musical," remembers a particular moment in one of the audition sessions for "Mamma Mia!" in 2010, when Park was asked to somehow "seduce" one of the judges on the spot. Most of the other contestants danced with sexy movements, but Park surprised the judges by doing something they did not expect.
"She calmly walked up to one of the judges and whispered something in his ear. He did not expect that at all, and was really impressed by the idea. I think she stands out among the actresses her age, because she has this innate quality that makes her effortlessly original."
Park said she considers herself a "very lucky person," and she was a beneficiary of the particular audition system for "Mamma Mia!"
"I was lucky because everyone who tried out, regardless of their previous experience, was given a chance to sing in front of the judges," Park, who nabbed two Best Emerging Actress awards last year, said.
"So the audition system really opened doors for me. I don't think I would've made it to the audition stage if it was mandatory for contestants to have experience on stage."