New Musical by Kim Dae-Sung and Go Sun-Woong, based on the novel by Jo Jung Rae. Presented by Seensee Musical Company, at LG Theater Seoul, July 2015
“Beyond the tale of budding young love and the painstaking struggles of a village and its people, the musical “Arirang” is an emotional roller-coaster of artistic beauty, unrelenting sorrow and the glimmering of hope.
From the painful-to-watch scenes depicting the rape of women by Japanese soldiers, to the brutal murders and suicides of innocent Koreans, “Arirang” – a historical adaptation of local novelist Jo Jung-rae’s eponymous 12-volume novel of the Japanese colonial rule of Korea – does not soften the blow in order to cater to the meek or the weak at heart.
To make the 12-volume masterpiece into one production, the musical chooses to focus its plot on the tale of ordinary townspeople from the rural village of Juksan and their unrelenting physical and emotional turmoil during the turbulent period of Japanese colonial rule of the peninsula.
In the leads were Yoon Gong-joo as the villager Bang Su-guk and her one true love Cha Deuk-bo played by actor Lee Chang-hee. Suh Bum-seok took on the role of Song Su-ik – the aristocrat who eventually leads an uprising against the Japanese army for independence ? while Kim Woo-hyung tackled the arduous task of portraying Yang Chi-sang ? a traitor to the nation who turned informant to the Japanese army.
With this year being the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan, the production seemed to have added to the storyline’s emotional impact on the audience members, many of whom remained motionless during a number of intense scenes depicting the torture of Koreans.
One of the show’s most memorable scenes was without a doubt a solo act by Yoon, who was portraying the role of Su-guk – a village girl who becomes pregnant after being forced into the role of a concubine to a Japanese soldier.
Struggling her way onto the center stage, with a look of complete emotional void in her tear-filled eyes, Yoon was raw and utterly compelling as she bared her soul and despair, shouting out in horrifying desperation as she began to hit her pregnant belly in an attempt to force an abortion. One could see a number of audience members desperately trying to hold back their tears.
The mix of “pansori” (traditional Korean folk singing) and a contemporary musical score – with a touching rendition of the nation’s most representative folk song, “Arirang” – and the use of many on-screen graphics and stage effects further added a sense of the production being a modern retelling of the historical tale, without losing much in the way of authenticity.
It can be safe to assume that many spectators left the theater with similar unwavering thoughts – we must never take our freedoms for granted, we must never forget the struggles.”
– Julie Jackson, The Korea Herald, 23 July 2015