By Kwon Mee-yoo
The musical “Death Note,” one of the most highly anticipated theatrical spectacles of the year, has raised its curtain at the Opera House of Seongnam Arts Center in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, south of Seoul.
The show _ featuring music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Jack Murphy and book by Ivan Menchell _ is directed by Japanese director Tamiya Kuriyama. It premiered in Tokyo in April, before staging its first licensed production in Korea.
The musical is based on the internationally popular Japanese manga series of the same name, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. It revolves around high school student Light Yagami, who picks up a “God of Death” notebook, which enables the user to kill anyone. As soon as he realizes the power of the “Death Note,” Light decides to build an ideal world by killing criminals based on his own justice.
In the Korean production, top musical actor Hong Kwang-ho, who just returned from a one-year stint as Thuy in “Miss Saigon” in London’s West End, takes the role of Light, while K-pop sensation Kim Jun-su of JYJ plays Light’s arch-rival, detective L, a genius who tries to put a stop to Light’s immature attempts.
The mega-hit comic has sold more than 30 million copies, becoming one of the most popular manga in the world. It also has spawned a few derivative works, including three live-action films, 37 episodes of television animation and a drama to be aired later this year.
The musical condenses 12 volumes of the comic into two hours and 25 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission. The original comics had enough time and space to develop the characters’ personalities in depth, but the musical makes a dash for the story’s ending, after a hasty introduction to the characters and the setting. The ambiguous story influences the credibility of the characters and their relations and the audience has to fill in the gaps based on their imagination.
The actors bring liveliness and plausibility to the characters with superb singing and subtle acting. Hong, known for his powerhouse vocals, convincingly describes the ambitious boy who believes that he can change the world with his newly acquired “power.”
Kim’s presence as Detective L captivates the audience. With his signature metallic, husky voice, Kim suits such out-of-world characters, including his previous roles as Death in the musical “Elisabeth” and Count Dracula in “Dracula, the Musical.”
The Death Gods literally steal the limelight. Kang Hong-seok plays Ryuk, a male Death God who plants the notebook in the world of mortals out of boredom. He accompanies Light, the new owner of the Death Note, and gets entertained by his attempt to “clean up” society. Wearing grotesque makeup, his heartless yet enthralling character dominates the stage.
Wildhorn, Korea’s favorite composer behind musicals like “Jekyll and Hyde” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” offers rich tunes to portray the characters and the tangled plot. The duets of Light and L, such as “Where Is Justice?,” explode with the tension and sense of rivalry between the two characters. Hong’s clean, deep baritone sound sharply clashes with Kim’s epicene, husky voice in the song.
Despite the grand setting crisscrossing life and death and justice and injustice, the stage set is rather simple. It consists of a two-story steel-frame structure and a revolving stage, the plain set effectively portraying dreary city life. The rotating stage shines when Light and L play a game of tennis, exchanging each other’s beliefs as well as the ball. However, for those who expect visual spectacles worth their 140,000 won ticket price, the set might not fit the bill.
“Death Note” is extended through Aug. 15. Tickets cost from 50,000 to 140,000 won. For more information, visit http://www.musicaldeathnote.co.kr or call 1577-3363.