There are some familiar stories in a new Broadway musical opening: a singer and her relationship with the mentor who guided her; a newcomer trying to find her place; Young women chasing their dreams.
But they have never sounded like this.
The global sensation that is Korean pop music is coming to center stage in k-popwhich opens on Sunday at the Circle in the Square Theatre.
Featuring an almost entirely Asian-American and Asian cast, many of whom are making their Broadway debuts, the musical is set as a behind-the-scenes look at some K-pop artists as they prepare for their debut show in town. from New York. Conflicts flare up 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 of a K-pop play about a decade ago and performed 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 with his family in the Midwest. K-pop has been a fixture in his life, as have Korean TV dramas. He also loved musical theater, especially shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Dreamgirls,” where the story is about what goes on behind the scenes.
“I love backstage shows,” he said. “Are there fights between everyone? Do they all love each other? These are the questions I asked myself.”
In the early stage version of the show, Kim was introducing the K-pop machine to an American audience largely unfamiliar with it; five years later, it’s been rewritten for a world where big K-pop music hits like BTS and Blackpink are mainstays on the pop charts, amid a slew of other Korean entertainment in movies and on TV like “Squid Games” that they become more popular in the US as well.
Back then, America “didn’t really know what K-pop was, so there was a lot of explaining I had to do. … This time, I didn’t really have to take the stance of having to apologize for anything or having to explain anything, and just let the story unfold,” said Kim, a television and film writer.
He called the moment “really serendipitous.”
“It’s been really profound and moving to see the world change like this.”
A Broadway musical showcasing the sounds of K-pop is a sign of how “America is finally catching up with what was already happening around the world,” said Robert Ji-Song Ku, associate professor of Asian studies. -Americans at Binghamton University. .
K-pop has been growing in popularity globally for the past 20 years, even though other attempts to break into the US market over the years have not been as successful until recently, he said.
“If there is a spectrum of universality, K-pop is designed to be as universal as possible,” he said.
Casting for the show took about two years, Kim said, with calls open in both the US and South Korea. Some of those on the show have K-pop backgrounds, including Luna, a former member of the group f(x), who plays the central character of MwE, a singer who has spent years working towards her dreams and has come to a crossroads. .
It’s a step up for Asian-American representation on Broadway, which is very important to Kim.
“That talent is out there, and they just need a platform,” he said. “So it was very important to me to put these Asians on stage and see them not playing the typical roles that they play, but playing rock stars, pop stars, dancing and acting like crazy and just being spectacular. ”
For his part, Park called the experience an honor.
“K-pop and Broadway have been my passion for a long time; K-pop has been like comfort food to me, and Broadway was my seemingly unattainable dream, since there haven’t been many Asian songwriters, let alone Asian songwriters that I can see and dream of being,” she said in an email. . “To be able to bring something that feels like home to the stage of my dreams, Broadway, feels like the most miraculous gift that I will treasure for a lifetime.”
Kim said it was also important for the show to include some Korean interspersed with English, both in songs and dialogue.
It’s “a way of being really authentic to the experience of K-pop idols and Koreans,” Kim said, noting that “when I talk to my mom, I’m switching back and forth all the time, depending on what let’s have”. We are talking.
“The design of the bilingual nature of the program was very intentional.”
Clearly, a musical built around K-pop 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 tune.
“Hopefully, if we do our job well, you’re looking at a fun musical with a bunch of great K-pop songs,” he said. “But really what you get when you walk out of the theater is a universal story.”