What better way to start Phase 2 than with my number 1, my most important production that I have seen, the incredible Dracula in Korea.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the Press Conference for Dracula, which is part of what made it so special. The only international media! They even wrote about me in the Korean press releases.
You can read about that here.
But what made this Dracula The Musical in Korea my favourite production was a whole combination of perfections: it firstly being my favourite musical by my favourite musical composer Frank Wildhorn; it being produced by my favourite producer Shin Chun Soo, who created a perfect new song especially for the production- “She”; it’s starring three of my favourite musical actors- Ryu Jung Han, Chong Seon Ah and my number one Kim Jun Su; and finally just it’s incomparable and absolutely breathtaking staging.
It has been announced that the Dracula The Musical will be reborn in Seoul next year. My only advice would be: see it.
Here is my review from last year, after seeing it on both the 17th and 19th July 2016. The review was originally posted on Hello Asia!
Since it’s announcement back in May I told myself that I needed to somehow, in anyway, get myself to Seoul to see the Korean production of The Musical Dracula. Dracula has always been one of my favourite musicals, as a brilliant mix of all the drama of The Phantom of the Opera and all the darkness of Jekyll and Hyde. It was then announced that it would be produced by Shin Chun Soo, one of my favourite musical producers, who would be writing new songs for the Korean production. And then it was announced that the lead of Dracula would be shared between Ryn Jeong Han and Kim Junsu. Yep, I had to absolutely see this musical.
So I ended up seeing it twice. And it was absolutely as amazing as I had imagined.
The story, for those who do not know, follows the Bram Stoker novel telling of Count Dracula and his passion for the beautiful Mina Murray. Dracula is looking to move to a new location for fresh prey, and Jonathan Harker has been trying to help him with the real estate. Mina enters as Harker’s fiance, to whom Dracula immediately falls deeply in love with. Mina reminds him of his lost love Elisabeta. The story reaches it tragic end when Dracula asks a now mutually in love Mina to help him die, giving him “back to darkness” in order to keep her in the light.
Tears. Let me tell you tears were shed.
For the sets alone, Dracula was a spectacular production. I think throughout the entire show they hardly reused a set. The stage was massive, much larger than any stage I have seen before- in height, width and especially in depth. The floor was a mix of giant revolving plates and moving panels that cycled through the sets with ease. During one particular scene the large ‘wall panels’ are rapidly moving in and out as the cast hunts down Dracula through the mayhem.
The lighting effects added an incredible depth to the stage, and helped with creating those dynamic multiple sets. Strong projections coloured the strong walls- turning them from Dracula’s fortress to a bright London. There was an emphasis on the colour red, naturally, and scenes are often “blacked out” completely in the colour.
Silhouettes of Dracula were also projected, interacting with the characters who hear “his voice in their head”. The silhouette was so brilliantly done that it almost hard to make it out as video of the lead actor until you recognise the distinctive movements.
And then the sound! The orchestra is encompassing and the rich full sound makes each scene larger and much more intense. Both in my floor seat and balcony seat the sound was perfectly balanced and I could hear each minute detail in Wildhorn’s breathtaking score.
But all this would mean nothing if your cast wasn’t at a level to support it, and the casting of this production was perfect. Despite being a fairly small cast of 20, they create the sense of a far larger team. Voices match and interweave perfectly with each other, creating harmony and support as required.
Kim Junsu. Honestly I don’t think I can imagine anyone who would be able to embrace the role of Dracula in the same way as Junsu- his unique rasping voice, his prowling sexiness and agility, and his absolutely incredible ability to hit the most soaring notes is second to none. Time and time again Junsu is proving his standing as not only Xia, but now as one of Korea’s premiere musical actors. The moment of transformation from the old Dracula we are first introduced to, to the reveal of the leather clad Junsu is… Heart stopping to say the least.
If I had time I would have gone to an additional third viewing to see Ryu Jeong Han, as a fan of his as well I would have loved to see how he depicted the role. Interestingly this is the second time he and Junsu have shared the role of a dark and seductive being- the first being the role of Death in Elisabeth.
I was able to see both Cho Jeong Eun and Chong Seon Ah in the role of Mina, and both were so equally suited for the role. Mina is exudes a almost conflicting sense of both sweet innocence and strength of mind. Their rising vocals hold strong and pure against the huge sound of the orchestra that they may have needed to compete with. Her match in Harker (again I saw both castings of Kai and Cho Kang Hyun) was well balanced, with his strong deep voice supporting her higher range and reinforcing their partnership.
A bit of a surprise to me was how much I loved the roles of Renfield and Lucy. Played by Lee Seung Won and Lee Ji HyeIt respectively.
Renfield manages to conjure just the right amount of insanity, blindless loyalty and commanding vocals. He’s brilliant.
Lucy, who could quite easily disappear under Mina, stands on equal footing. To me the role of Lucy was almost a second female lead. She is adorably clueless and once converted to one of Dracula’s wives, she is sexy and insane. Her solo ‘The Invitation’ was one of my favourite pieces. Lee Ji HyeIt’s beautiful voice called to Dracula and the audience, inviting them to her.
The staging of Dracula’s wives as they crawl from various ground locations across the stage added to the dynamic of the stage. They first awake from coffins at the front of the stage, embedded within the bed of the stage itself, and then they explode from ground locations and crawl in from sides throughout the production. Their sexy, prowling dance movements as they travel about the stage are chilling and seducing.
Producer Shin Chun Soo’s new songs ‘Last Man Standing’, ‘She’ and ‘Nosferatu Recit’ are added seamlessly into the repertoire. I sincerely hope they release a recording of this production so people will be able to not only hear these fantastic new additions, but finally hear a full recording of the musical.
Something that really set Dracula apart for me was the strength of the storytelling even through the language barrier. Truthfully I am very familiar (all of the lyrics familiar) with the Cast Recording of the original Broadway musical, so that may have helped, but I truly felt the power of what was being spoken in the portrayal of actions and the feeling in the voices. I knew exactly what was going on at all times, and I knew exactly the emotion of the character. This sometimes doesn’t happen for me even in English spoken musicals.
My favourite scene was when Dracula tells the great story of his love in ‘She’, one of Producer Shin’s new additions. It is heart wrenching and the strength in which Dracula howls his despair and loneliness, cursing the world for its cruelty, really reaches the audience. The piece opens in hope as Dracula tells of a time when he is admired and a follower of God’s will. He falls deeply in love with a beautiful and innocent woman called Elisabeta, but they are torn apart through war. Reunited, they embrace, only to have her throw herself into the dagger meant for Dracula. And Dracula SCREAMS. The sound echoing throughout the deathly quiet theater. He stabs the attacker and returns to the arms of his dying love, who clutches at Dracula until her body becomes still and lifeless. Dracula begs her not to leave him, wailing his grief. Red light begins to cover the stage, spreading out like the spill of blood. Dracula has turned mad, he stands and grabs the dagger that has now taken two lives. Leaping onto the church altar he stabs at the betraying cross in the midst of the climatic music. He buries the dagger deep as the blood red light completely embraces the stage. The colour drains, and we return to our present time with a shocked Mina, as Dracula takes her hand and seals the new hope for light that he has found in her.
This song is pivotal. Not only are we given insight to Dracula, but it begins to change the audiences perception of this so called ‘monster’. As Director David Swan says “people are never all good, or all bad… What kind of monster would any of us become, to what lengths would we go, to what depths would we sink, to fight for the things that are most important to us?”
Dracula was adapted from the original broadway musical for the Korean stage, which naturally means there are slight alterations to the music, lyrics and characters that I find immensely interesting. I managed to get a hand of the translated lyrics for ‘Loving You Keeps Me Alive’, one of my favourite pieces. In the original Broadway version the lyrics are Dracula’s persuasive urging to Mina to come to him and forget Harker- “Loving you keeps me alive/Think again before you leave me/For his love could never be as true/As the love I offer you”. The lyrics for the Korean version however, depict a more sentimental Dracula. He asks Mina not to leave him as she is the “single silver lining in (his) empty life”. He desperately begs to Mina, “You are the reason of my life/My first love, who gets me to live/The love that even the time couldn’t erase”. In this new Korean production, Dracula is not afraid to show his desperation in the face of love. He is not weaker in character for it, but rather demonstrates this interesting contrast between the commanding heartless Dracula we are introduced to, and this new more dependent being who craves warmer feelings than the coldness the world has shown him. Again we question whether Dracula is truly the monster he is called.
The Musical Dracula was completely and utterly captivating. The staging, acting, music and costumes were enthralling, pulling you into Dracula’s strange dark world in a very sexy and very breathtaking way. The quality of the production was incredibly high, potentially the most well staged musical I have seen (including productions on Broadway). If you have any chance to see it, then I urge you to go. I only wish I could see it yet again.
Dracula, I would embrace your endless night.