Korean musical producers make foray into overseas market

Korean musical producers make foray into overseas market
A scene from "Kinky Boots" co-produced by CJ E&M.

Last year, the Broadway musical "Kinky Boots," co-produced by Korean entertainment company CJ E&M, won a total of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Leading Man.

The company, which has been investing in West End and Broadway musicals such as "The Bodyguard" and "Big Fish," invested US$1 million (S$1.26 million) in "Kinky Boots," becoming the sixth-largest investor in the production.

It was the first time that a musical co-produced by a Korean company received such honors.

"I guess any producer's dream is to break into Broadway," said Jee Seung-yeon from CJ E&M. "Investing (in Broadway musicals) was one of the ways to show our ability and capital as producers."

Korea's musical industry has grown remarkably over the last few years, with the opening of major musical venues, increasing ticket sales and more producers making forays into overseas markets.

Local industry goes big

According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in Korea a total of 4,462 musical productions were staged in 2012 and viewed by 11,532,900 people, the largest number among performing arts genres including plays, ballet and opera. In 2011, a total of 3,790 productions sold some 10,112,212 tickets.

More plays were produced and staged than musicals in both 2011 and 2012, but did not attract more viewers than musical productions.

Two major musical venues, D-Cube Art Center and Blue Square, opened in Seoul in 2011. As of last year, more than 1 million Koreans had seen "The Phantom of the Opera" since it premiered in the country in 2001.

The first run sold some 240,000 tickets, its 2005 run 190,000, and its 2009 Korean-language production 330,000. Its 2012 run, which also marked its 25th anniversary, attracted 190,000 viewers.

Foreign licensed musicals, such as "Cats," "Mamma Mia!" "Les Miserables," and "Wicked" have also been enjoying consistent popularity here.

European musicals, such as "Elisabeth" and "Mozart!" also enjoyed commercial success, while "Avenue Q," an R-rated American puppet musical dealing with homosexuality, racism and pornography, made its Korean premiere last year.

"You certainly feel like you have a lot of choices compared to five or six years ago," said an industry source who asked to remain anonymous. "The industry has gotten a lot more diverse."

Local musicals also saw success at home and abroad. A total of eight Korean musicals, including the romantic comedy "Finding Mr. Destiny," one of the most popular productions from Seoul's Daehangno district, and "Caffeine," were performed in Tokyo's affluent Roppongi district last year.

Another homespun musical, "Moon Embracing the Sun," which is based on MBC's enormously successful 2012 period drama series of the same name, also had a Japanese run at the Aoyama Theatre in 2013.

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