3 April 1992. China and Korea have finally decided to join hands in friendship, and the Korean Government decides to host a celebratory State Dinner for the visiting Chinese diplomats. The Blue House bodyguards are busy with preparations, and amongst them are two 26-year-old fellows that just graduated from the Corps’s training school: Han Jeong-hak and Kang Mu-yeong. Jeong-hak is from The City; serious, studious and reserved. Mu-yeong is from The Country; a ‘free soul,’ emotional and flighty. Even though they’re complete opposites, Mu-yeong and Jeong-hak quickly become fast friends and ultimately competitive rivals. The first mission assigned to them is to protect a woman known only by the code name “She.” In the months following while protecting this woman, they both eventually fall in love with “She,” which leads to several misunderstandings between our heroes. But suddenly on the day of the State Dinner, Mu-yeong and “She” disappear… never to be seen again.
3 April 2012. It is now the 20th Anniversary of said China-Korea relations, and another State Dinner has been planned to commemorate the occasion. Jeong-hak has been promoted to Chief Bodyguard at the Blue House and in charge of protecting the First Family, but his main assignment is to keep an eye on the President’s daughter Hannah (who has her own issues with protocol, decorum and staying put). Mirroring what happened 20 years prior, the First Daughter goes missing along with her bodyguard Dae-sik right before the event and Jeong-hak is worried that they may have been kidnapped by an anti-Korean organization. Jeong-hak starts having nightmares and while he searches for the missing child, clues to what actually happened to Mu-yeong and “She” start appearing before him. How will Jeong-hak put all the pieces together in order to safely bring home the First Daughter?
A new musical premiered on 4 April 2013 at the Daehangno Musical Centre in Seoul, running through 30 June 2013. Entitled “The Days,” this is a joint venture between Eniworks and EDA Entertainment, two fairly large entities and well-known in Korean musical theatre circles (with a few won being thrown in for advertisement costs by SBS Entertainment). This production is commonly referred to as a ‘jukebox musical,’ which means the storyline is loosely constructed around a pastiche of tunes (along the same lines as what Cirque du Soleil did with their LOVE production featuring songs of the Beatles). In this case, the show takes the songs written by the late topical folk-rock singer Kim Kwang-seok (1964-1996) and melds them into a plot centered around the goings-on with the bodyguards at the Korean Blue House during the move towards friendlier international relations that China and Korea were going through in the early 1990s.
This production has been on everyone’s radar for a few years now, but only just come to fruition after several false starts that fell through due to lack of funding, a proper venue, and other sundry issues. But once several big-name musical stars signed on the dotted line, all that fell away. And as is the case with any musicals staged in Korea, several different actors/actresses will be rotating in and out during the production. The main cast consists of:
Rookie Bodyguard (later Chief Bodyguard) Jeong-hak (ages 26/46)
Rookie Bodyguard Mu-yeong (age 26)
This is the second musical that Ji Chang-wook, Oh Jeong-hyuk and Choi Jae-ung have starred in together, having been casted as the titular Leopold and Loeb roles in the 2010 production of “Thrill Me.” It is also the second production that Ji Chang-wook and Oh Man-seok have starred in after both appeared in SBS’s sageuk “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” in 2011.
As soon as Oh Jeong-hyuk finished his mandatory military service on 3 February 2013, the production jumped into rehearsals. Their first order of business was the customary Overnight Retreat to ensure the cast and crew bonding over barbeque and beers. Comraderie is shared and games are played… and the losers are subjected to photographic humiliation. All in all, a grand time was had by everyone!
PRESS CONFERENCE ♦ 14 February 2013
The Press Conference for “The Days” was held at the Daehangno Musical Centre in Seoul. Two musical numbers were showcased: “Those Days” and “A Letter to the Cloudy Autumn Sky,” with the entire ensemble joining in on the latter.
Of course, you can’t have a Major Production put on like this without a little publicity in front of it, right? As soon as the cast was finalized, the Media Blitz also started in earnest. Here we have a BTS shot for the Main Poster and the Character Biographies:
Voila – the finished product!
OPEN REHEARSALS ♦ 21 March 2013
The press was again invited to Open Rehearsals at the Seoul Namsan Creation Centre. Several music and dance showcases were presented, with each revolving cast member getting their turn on stage. The songs featured were: “I Did Not Tell You My Love” and “My Song.”
Besides giving the usual interviews to the Fourth Estate, the Main Cast took to the airwaves in earnest between 21 March and 4 April, with several stops along the way for in-studio appearances. One of them was SBS’s “One Night of TV Entertainment” that aired on 25 March, featuring an interview with Yoo Jun-sang, Oh Man-seok, Kim Jung-hwa and Ji Chang-wook (this segment was originally filmed after the Press Conference on 14 February):
There was also a hilarious appearance on MBC’s “Golden Fishery – Radio Star” program that aired on 3 April, where Ji Chang-wook, Oh Jeong-hyuk, Yoo Jun-sang, and singer Lee Jeong-yeol (a contemporary of Kim Kwang-seok) sat and chatted (this segment was filmed on the same day as the Open Rehearsals on 21 March). Since “The Days” has a bit of physical comedy incorporated in the plot (the Mu-yeong character has a few tumbling stunts therein), the hosts were more interested to watch My Precious do the one-handed backflip that he learned during the filming of “Warrior Baek Dong Soo”:
“The Days” is being staged at the newly-built Daehangno Musical Center, smack-dab in the middle of the “Arts Center of Seoul” due to its proximity to several universities, namely Sungkyunkwan University, Korea National Open University, Catholic University of Korea and Seoul National University College of Medicine (Seoul National University itself moved away from the area in 1986). The complex was built by mega-chaebol-conglomerate Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine & Engineering Construction, with the work on this building completed in 2011. Daehangno houses rehearsal space, dressing rooms, a Coffeesmith coffee shop, a Thai House restaurant, and the ‘Grande Hall’ where the productions are presented. This building was intended to be part of a cluster of other spaces for presenting small-to-grandiose theatre works, but Daewoo has run into financial trouble and the completion of the complex is unknown at present.
This production almost did not see the light of day (no pun intended), due to an ongoing dispute between the Daehangno Musical Center’s owner (Eniworks) and the general contractor of the complex (Daewoo). Daewoo claims that Eniworks was in arrears to the tune of 14 billion won ($12.5 million USD) for unpaid construction expenses, and on 30 March slapped a lien on the property effectively locking out the actors, musicians and crew members from entering the concert hall. The Show’s production company (EDA Entertainment) immediately filed for a preliminary injunction against the lockout with the Seoul Central District Court, stating that Daewoo never raised a single objection about the unpaid rent and costs until that day — Daewoo had been aware of the Show’s schedule since November 2012.
Long story short, the Court ruled in favor of EDA Entertainment on 2 April, questioning why Daewoo didn’t raise any objections about the performance until late March, and ordered the parties into mediation to settle their differences. In a press conference after the ruling, Son Sang-won (the CEO of EDA Entertainment) stated, ”This incident shows how culture is mistreated in [Korean] society. There were other tenants of the building including coffee shops and restaurants in operation, but the construction company did not exercise their [work stoppage] rights on them.” In addition, the preliminary injunction only protects “The Days” through its 30 June run and the production of ”Cleopatra,’’ another musical that is scheduled for the theater in July. Other productions scheduled past that run remain unclear at present.
Winning this injunction gave the actors and crew only TWO DAYS for technical and dress rehearsals, so the production quickly held their customary prayer service and went on to practice for 48 hours straight in order to premiere as planned at 8:00 PM on 4 April.
Sadly, this squabble serves as an indicator for Korea’s increasingly schizophrenic theatrical scene, where money is drying up quickly for everyone except the big production companies importing big-budget works from Broadway and Europe. Eniworks has also proved to be a not-so-diligent building manager: a production member of the musical “Bachelor’s Vegetable Store,” which was staged at the theatre in December 2012, said the theater was poorly constructed and not even fully soundproofed. “We had to refund some of our audience members for their complaints and asked Eniworks to compensate the damages. Eniworks agreed to reimburse them by 1 March, but has not paid anything to date.” Obviously, I’m going to be keeping an eye on this situation.
PREMIERE ♦ 4 April 2013
SECOND NIGHT PERFORMANCE ♦ 5 April 2013
PERFORMANCE 14 April 2013
YAY FINALLY got my hands on a shot of Manzzang and My Precious together on stage!! *happydance*
MEDIA REVIEWS ♦ (Ongoing)
6 April 2013: The first reviews have come out in the Korean entertainment press, and they run the gamut from “a total success” to “needs more work.” Although all reviewers have been very complimentary of the actors and their singing prowess, several state that the songs and the plot do not meld together as a “jukebox musical” should. There has also been stinging criticism about the state of the Grande Hall venue itself, with many reviewers classifying it as “cold, dark and dusty.” Complaints about the acoustics and general disrepair of the premises have been also lodged with both EDA and Eniworks, leading EDA to discount the ticket prices on some upcoming dates. But that hasn’t stopped the crowds from giving standing ovations and requests for encores every single night… go figure.
8 April 2013: One Korean news outlet is under fire for its insensitivity towards the late Kim Kwang-seok’s memory and the production’s use of his music as a whole. Mr. Kim was known as a ‘rabble-rouser’ in his day, mostly focusing on political-type songs in his collaborations with fellow singer Kim Min-gi and the band Dongmulwon. This news source went on to say that “Kim would have been appalled to death to see his songs turned into trivial tunes with this production.” (If you’re not familiar with the history, the cause of Mr. Kim’s untimely death was his committing suicide by hanging.) Needless to say, I’m sure a retraction will be forthcoming or the netizens will bring out their usual pitchforks and torches in protest!
9 April 2013: EDA Entertainment reports this morning that all of Ji Chang-wook’s performances scheduled through the end of May HAVE. SOLD. OUT. (And you expected anything different? HA.) And the first crabby review of his 5 April performance came in, stating that “it may be because of his young age or lack of experience, but his [Ji Chang-wook] thin tone does not go well with Mr. Kim’s songs, especially on Mu-yeong’s showcase number ‘Do Not Think Deeply.'” Yeah, whatever. If you’re still saying that in a couple of weeks, then I may take you seriously. But for now, go pound sand!
12 April 2013: Due to a recurring bronchial infection, Kim Jung-hwa has pulled out of the production for the next few weeks, hoping to return for the 1 May show. Then on 15 April, she announces her impending marriage to a songwriter she met while doing missionary work in Africa. Coincidence? Hmmm… So until Jung-hwa returns, Bang Jin-hwi will assume the “She” role for all performances. (There is an understudy available, but I am unaware of her name right now.)
1 May 2013: Sometime in between 22 April and 30 April, the Show was retooled ever-so-slightly to drop one number that was mostly performed by the chorus, and expand the encore section right after the cast bows. Both our Lead Boys get a chance to reprise a few stanzas of their solo numbers, and then the whole cast joins in on a reprise of “Letter to the Cloudy Autumn Sky.”
8 May 2013: My tickets have been ordered for the four performances during the last week of its run. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!
31 May 2013: Scratch that… with Ji Chang-wook accepting one of the main roles in “Jack the Ripper,” his stage time for “The Days” has been revised somewhat, so his appearances during the last week of this show is limited to only 30 June alone. But there’s two shows that day (at 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM)… and I have tickets to both performances. SQUEEEEEEEEEEE x Infinity!!! Good thing too, because I found out a few days later that both Finale shows sold out in less that NINE MINUTES. *phew*
3 June 2013: Big wins tonight for “The Days” at the 7th Annual The Musical Awards!!! With 10 nominations overall, the show took back to Daehangno with them Best Creative Musical and Best Director statues… and then an award given to some guy for the Best New Actor: Ji Chang-wook. WOOOOOOOOOOO!!! *cough* But wait… he’s been in musicals before and he’s just NOW being recognized as “new”? Oh hell, don’t care — an award is an award. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
(Better pictures to be uploaded when I’m back at a full computer!) SOOOO worth being half-awake at 2:00 AM Pacific time to catch this live. Chukahamnida Jibaeunim!!!
(All pictures © where indicated, and a special shout-out to my chingu at DayRock for the candid shots from the 5 April and 14 April performances. Kamsahamnida!)