On a snowy night of late January, people in elegant winter coats made their way out of the subway station and into Chungmu Arts Center. They were dressed up for the 8 p.m. performance of the acclaimed musical “Frankenstein,” and they seemed more than eager to witness in person the show that opened a new era of Korean theater. They were not disappointed. Not one of the audience left the theater without either a smile on their faces, or tears in their eyes.
“Frankenstein” is based on Mary Shelley’s legendary novel, “Frankenstein,” although the director Wang Yong Beom had added some creative touches to the original plot to make the story more suitable for the theater adaptation.
During the Napoleonic Wars of the late 19th Century, a righteous and headstrong doctor Henry Dupre is convicted of treason after tending to the wounds of an enemy soldier. General Victor Frankenstein overturns Henry’s sentence, and persuades Henry into joining him in his military project and long dream: the artificial creation of life. However, the project is canceled after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and Victor returns to his hometown Geneva with Henry. They continue the research under the unwelcoming stares and the scorn of the townspeople, but their experiments fail because the subjects’ brains are not fresh enough to endure the procedure. While searching for a sufficient brain, a series of unfortunate events occur, and Victor is left with a suitable brain for his experiment: Henry’s. With Henry’s head, Victor creates an artificial human, and brings the Monster to life. But after witnessing the beastly misdeeds of the Monster, Victor tries to end its life. Evading its creator’s attempts to kill it, the Monster escapes from Victor’s laboratory and disappears. And, three years later, the Monster comes back with a thirst for revenge that signals the start of tragedy and destruction.
This fast-paced musical has experienced immense success, both in its original 2014 production and its ongoing 2015-2016 production. In 2014, “Frankenstein” had dominated the 8th TheMusical Awards, in which it won 9 major categories and was awarded “The Best Musical of the Year” alongside “Wicked”. Currently, the producers are planning a production the show in Japan and in Broadway.
Several factors account for the tremendous popularity of “Frankenstein,” but its high-quality music had undoubtedly made a significant contribution. Before “Frankenstein,” it was widely assumed that the music in Korean musicals was less catchy or emotional than shows imported from other countries. However, the scores of “Frankenstein,” composed by the show’s music director Lee Sung Joon, are unlike any other that came before in the Korean musical industry. The songs convey emotions of fear, anger, and heartbreak in dramatic melodies that stays in the audience’s hearts long after the performance. Sometimes, the melodies are so complex and difficult that they rival the songs from Broadway shows (“Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “I am a Monster” from “Frankenstein” have the same highest note). Often, people leave the theater thinking that “Frankenstein” was imported from Broadway, and cannot hide their shock when they learn that the show was produced by an all-Korean staff.
“Frankenstein” is an incredible byproduct of fast-paced plot, captivating visuals, dramatic music, and an outstanding performance of some of the best musical actors in Korea. The show will be performed in Chungmu Arts Center until March 20, 2016.
BY Seeun Kim ’19