By Kwon Mee-yoo
Oscar Wilde’s 19th century philosophical novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is being adapted for a musical production starring K-pop’s Kim Jun-su in September.
Slated for opening on Sept. 3 at Seongnam Arts Center in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, the musical “Dorian Gray” is one of the most highly anticipated theatrical works in Korea this year.
Scripted by Cho Yong-shin, with music composed by Kim Moon-jeong, the musical is directed by Lee Gi-na, known for mega-productions such as “Seopyeonje” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
This is the first original production by CJeS Culture, a theater-related subsidiary of talent agency CJeS Entertainment. The production was originally developed for a small theater at a workshop in 2013.
Cho said the show went through major changes from its initial conception as it grew bigger. “Now the actors have to bring out more depth as new characters have been added, creating more dynamics in relationships,” Cho said at a press conference introducing the musical on July 11. “It’s a totally new show for a bigger theater.”
There were a handful of theatrical adaptations of “Dorian Gray” around the globe, including the most notable, Matthew Bourne’s contemporary dance adaptation, but most were small-scale. No major Broadway or West End production of the Wilde novel was created.
Director Lee explained her choice for the esthetic, pedantic nature of the 1890 novel. “The novel is abstruse and can be difficult to read,” Lee said. “We will maintain the atmosphere and message of the original work, but the adaptation will be for people of all ages.”
Set in Victorian-era England, the musical revolves around Dorian Gray, a young man who inspires painter Basil to create a full-length portrait of him. Dorian’s life takes an unexpected turn as he gets heavily influenced by the hedonistic aristocrat Henry. To remain young and beautiful forever, Dorian wishes his portrait to age and fade instead of himself, and he becomes morally corrupt.
Composer Kim is one of the most experienced musical directors in Korea, who recently conducted “Mozart!,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Les Miserables,” and makes her debut as a composer in “Dorian Gray.”
“‘Dorian Gray’ has a dark subject matter and it has been a dark journey for us as well,” she said. “I am not totally satisfied with my music, but I believe the actors will fill up the rest with their singing, acting and emotions. I want the music to complete the characters and as soon as the actors start singing, their characters will be achieved.”
Kim Jun-su’s challenge
The cast is headlined by Kim Jun-su as Dorian Gray, with Park Eun-tae as Lord Henry Wotton, Choi Jae-woong as painter Basil Hallward and new face Hong Seo-young as Sibyl Vane.
Kim, a vocalist for K-pop boy band JYJ, debuted on stage as Mozart, a character based on the historic figure, in 2010. His uniquely hoarse voice and overwhelming presence fit best to portray unearthly characters, such as Tod (Death) in “Elisabeth,” Dracula in Frank Wildhorn’s “Dracula the Musical” and L in “Death Note,” based on the Japanese comics of the same name.
He will face a new challenge this time portraying the young man who drives himself into catastrophe in “Dorian Gray.”
“I saw a film version of Dorian Gray and thought it was shocking and interesting at the same time,” Kim Jun-sun said. “When I heard the news of a musical adaptation of Dorian Gray being developed, I immediately wanted to play the role. I have played many conceptual characters, but Dorian is different. I begin as a human but become more abstract as the plot progresses. That is challenging for me.”
There is no doubt the production relies heavily on Kim, which will act as a double-edged sword. But there is no doubt ‘Dorian Gray’ will be a box-office hit boosted by Kim’s star power. The first tickets were released Wednesday and the show is already almost sold out from Sept. 3 to 30.
This takes much of the burden off the creative team to make the show a commercial success and they can focus on the production and perhaps experiment. Director Lee, the latest member to join the creative team, said she jumped on the bandwagon because of Kim Jun-su.
“The musical is show business and even a good musical would be short-lived if it cannot sell,” Lee said. “I am grateful that the producer and actors took part in such a risky venture of making an original musical. I think everything is set and I can have the courage of my convictions for ‘Dorian Gray.'”
The musical runs from Sept. 3 to Oct. 29 at the Opera House of Seongnam Arts Center. For more information, visit http://www.snart.or.kr or call 1577-3363.