Wednesday, December 18, 2013

[Performance/Press Article] Musical; The Last Empress (명성황후)

Debuting in 1995 as South Koreas first original musical, The Last Empress (명성황후) has continued to inspire and captivate its audiences for almost 20 years. An interesting combination of classical music, Korean culture, and Broadway style, The Last Empress has successfully ran outside of Korea in New York, LA, Washington, and Londons West End. Luckily for us, the show is now back home and showing in our own city of Daegu.

 Set during the mid 1880s and telling the story of the eventual Japanese occupation, the musical centers on Queen Min (wife of the ruling King Gojong), and the social, economical, and political issues of the time. Based on true historical facts, the musical allows the audience to experience an intriguing period of time in Koreas history, including the struggle to accept and open the doors to foreign involvement, investment, and modernization. Queen Min, first portrayed as a quiet and submissive wife to her somewhat frivolous husband, soon develops into a strong and defiant character, with some critics going as far as to call her power hungry and manipulative.

Watching The Last Empress as a foreigner there were a few cringe worthy moments, both in the visual portrayal of the foreign countries, and in the subtitled translation. However the inclusion of these elements evoked interesting discussion in regards to Koreas modern day global position, a result the creators of the musical were keen to encourage. It certainly allows the audience to better understand the hostility that can often be seen in Korean-Japanese relations, yet also raises the question: has anything actually changed all that much? Is Korea now in a better place with Eastern cultures and Western modernization as Queen Min was so determined to achieve, or did it only encourage the downfall of both her and her future hopes for the country? The parallels between 1895 Chosun and 2013 South Korea, at least within the creative bounds of the musical, are undeniable, though it is open to individual opinion as to how accurate or biased these are.

Regardless of this, The Last Empress is impressive and memorable in many ways. The acting and musical talent of the cast alone was absolutely outstanding, particularly in the two solos near to the end of the show. The simple scenery used was effective and never seemed too minimalistic, with a rotating stage maximizing the scene to scene changes without it ever seeming like too much was happening at once. Colorful, rich, and intricate costumes throughout complemented the cast and scenery, whilst also visually demonstrating the changing times and lean towards modernization. Without a doubt The Last Empress is a must watch, whether for the music, art, or general interest in this period of Koreas history.

Showing at Keimyung Universitys Art Centre until December 29th, ticket prices range from 40-110,000 won. Tickets can be booked via interpark, or you can call direct at 053-580-6600

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