[Herald Interview] Music Composer Frank Wildhorn on the South Korean Music Industry, His Favorite Actors


There was a common element in four different theaters across South Korea on Thursday night. They all featured music by American composer Frank Wildhorn, the great mind behind the musicals “The Man Who Laughs”, “Death Note”, “Mata Hari” and “Jekyll & Hyde”.

“It’s 7,000 to 8,000 people every night listening to my music…all I can say is I’m the luckiest guy,” Wildhorn said in an interview with local reporters on same day. Although he would never meet most of these people, he realized that he could still have a chance to touch their lives and “hopefully give them good memories.”

This is the first time that four of his pieces have been rotated at the same time. His previous record was three musicals — “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War” — which ran simultaneously on Broadway in 1999.

About two decades ago, he started working with production companies outside the United States, in Europe and Asia. He recalled that at that time the Asian market was very divided. Productions and industry players were separated from each other and still going through growing pains, according to Wildhorn.

Today, the Asian market has become the largest in the world, he said, adding, “I am proud to be part of a small part of its evolving history.”

“There’s this wonderful group of young producers who have made it their mission to really create and nurture this Asian musical theater business,” he noted. The South Korean market is unique in that its audience is by far the youngest it has ever encountered. This young audience has the excitement of watching the same show multiple times, he observed.

Such a young audience, growing up loving musical theater, “is going to keep the industry healthy for years and years to come,” he added.

His involvement in South Korean music productions has made a difference in the local industry. In particular, his musicals gave emerging talents and local production companies greater opportunities to put their own spin on stories based on Western stories, setting the Korean music industry on a path to self-sufficiency.

Since first visiting South Korea for “Jekyll & Hyde” 18 years ago, Wildhorn has created three original musicals for Korea: “Tears of Heaven”, “Mata Hari” and “The Man Who Laughs”. “Excalibur” was also originally licensed in Switzerland, but received a major facelift in South Korea.

Working in South Korea, the composer said he most admires the talents of Korean musical actors. Regarding Kim Jun-su, whom he calls his “Korean brother”, Park Hyo-shin, whose voice inspired him to compose for “The Laughing Man”, and Ock Joo-hyun, the motivation behind “Mata Hari”, he said. , “Korean actors sing with soul. If they could speak English, I think they would do well on Broadway.

Kim, Park, and Ock have all found great success as K-pop singers and transitioned into musical actors. His love for these unconventional musical actors could stem from his own background.

The 63-year-old composer started out as a pop music composer, without any relevant degree. After making his mark with Whitney Houston’s song “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” in 1987, he entered the music industry with “Jekyll & Hyde” in 1990.

Always keen to recruit untapped talent into the music scene, he also offered V of the powerful K-pop boy group BTS to play a role in “Jekyll & Hyde.” He had watched V test his mic on stage, singing “This is the Moment,” a well-known number from the musical. That moment was enough to convince Wildhorn.

While his work has been recognized at awards shows here, there have also been productions that have gone through a phase of trial and error.

He believes that the first production of “Mata Hari”, the first original work by production company EMK made in 2016 and revised for the second and third productions, would never have seen the stage if it had premiered on Broadway due to differences in production. process between New York and Seoul.

The Broadway environment is better for the show, he said, because long before it hits a Broadway stage, the musical goes through an arduous process of pitching to investors, a series of reading and performance workshops outside New York, during which the production receives extensive feedback from the public. “Even with all that effort, most shows don’t make it to Broadway,” he said.

“In the case of ‘The Laughing Man’, due to a miracle, we seemed to have succeeded the first time and only made small changes for the second and third productions,” he said. declared. “The Laughing Man”, based on the same novel by Victor Hugo, premiered in 2018 and the current version is his third production.

In the near future, he expects more original Korean works to be performed on Broadway. Obstacles the South Korean music industry faces in expanding globally include producers’ reluctance to lose local talent to global productions, as well as language barriers actors face overseas. .

“I am currently working on musicals based on Japanese comics, and if they are performed on Broadway in the future, the demand for Asian actors will increase,” he added.

By Park Ga-young ([email protected])

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