|Jeon Seong-woo, left, as Oliver and Kang Hye-in as Claire in a scene from the musical 'Maybe Happy Ending' / Courtesy of CJ ENM|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
"Mayby Happy Ending," a Korean hit musical which premiered in the U.S. earlier this year, returned to Seoul with some of the original actors who garnered popularity on the small screen.
Currently on stage at the Yes24 Stage in Seoul's theater district of Daehangno, the musical has become the hottest ticket in town for its riveting story as well as beloved actors.
The musical is set in a near future when a "helper-bot" is part of everyday life and these robots are replaced by newer models as technology advances. The show's protagonists Oliver and Claire are obsolete helper-bots living in an apartment for out-of-date robots.
Oliver, a jazz loving helper-bot, lives a content life occasionally talking to his plant, but his life takes an unexpected turn as a stranger named Claire knocks on his door in the hopes of borrowing a charger.
Oliver, who befriends Claire, set out on a trip to Jeju Island to reunite with his master James, while Claire wants to see the fireflies in real life. Though the helper-bots are not programmed to love autonomously, Oliver and Claire go through unforeseen changes.
In this production, Jung Moon-sung, Jeon Seong-woo and Yang Hee-jun play the naive robot Oliver who maintains his loyalty to long-lost master James. Jeon Mi-do, Kang Hye-in and Han Jae-ah take on the role of the robot Claire, a carefree neighbor of Oliver whose charger is broken.
|Jeon Mi-do as Claire in 'Maybe Happy Ending' / Courtesy of CJ ENM|
Jeon and Jung both have long been tied to "Maybe Happy Ending," especially Jeon from the original audition back in 2015. Jeon also won Best Actress at the 2nd Korean Musical Awards in 2018 for her performance as Claire.
"Maybe Happy Ending" was a popular musical since its premiere, but it became one of the most highly sought-after theater tickets of the year as Jeon and Jung starred in the tvN medical drama "Hospital Playlist."
Jeon, who played neurosurgeon Chae Song-hwa, was a relatively new face on the small screen, but gained popularity as the pivotal character in the series. Though her character Song-hwa is tone-deaf, Jeon in real life is a musical theater actress.
Jung starred as Do Jae-hak, a chief resident of cardiothoracic surgery.
Those who want to experience their charms firsthand flocked to the theater and the performances in which they appear were sold out within minutes of going on sale.
|Jung Moon-sung as Oliver in 'Maybe Happy Ending' / Courtesy of CJ ENM|
Performing in pandemic times
To stage this production, composer Will Aronson and writer and lyricist Hue Park flew from the U.S. and went through the two-week quarantine process in order to meet the Korean creative team and cast.
"Musicals, and theater generally, have always been about human connection. And we certainly need connection now more than ever, especially when we have to wear masks and keep our distance from one another. In Korea, we can still enter a theater, and share the theatrical experience as a community ― that's a real gift. Hopefully it won't be long before the rest of the world can do the same," Aronson and Park told The Korea Times in an e-mail interview.
The musical celebrates its third production here, following the 2016 premiere and the second run in 2018.
"The text and music are essentially unchanged, except for some very small details. Visually, the show is somewhat different, as the director and new designers have continued to explore the world of the show," Aronson and Park said.
"Maybe Happy Ending" was created by an American composer and Korean lyricist duo and it was natural for them to aim for an American run of the show.
After years of preparations, the American premiere of "Maybe Happy Ending," directed by Michael Arden, raised its curtain on the Coca-Cola Stage of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia on Jan. 29.
"On the one hand, the story is the same. We kept the locations (Seoul and Jeju Island) and the character names (even the plant is still called "Hwaboon"). On the other, because the cultures and sensibilities are somewhat different, we've made a number of adjustments. For example, we cut some scenes and added others, and also cut several songs, all in the hopes of better conveying the intended emotions to the audience," the creators explained.
"We were surprised ― and relieved ― by how warmly the show was received. It's a welcome reminder that cultural differences may not be as great as we sometimes think."
|Hue Park, left, lyricist and writer of 'Maybe Happy Ending,' and Will Aronson, composer and writer of 'Maybe Happy Ending' / Courtesy of Pyokisik|
Though the plot is the same, there are some differences between the Korean and the U.S. production, including new songs and different interpretations of the characters. The two productions are separate as they were developed for different directions.
"It's actually not as simple as it might seem to mix the two different versions. We've been rediscovering that the scenes and songs are very delicately connected with each other. Replacing a song or even a line can have a very big impact on the flow and the structure of the story," Aronson and Park said. "We would love to share the American version with Korean audiences as well at some point. It would be interesting to find out whether it can resonate with them as well."
The show was aiming for a Broadway run after the Atlanta tryout, but everything stalled after all Broadway performances were suspended for the rest of the year.
"Unfortunately, this pandemic has made everything very up in the air. But there are many people working hard to bring the show to New York, and we're extremely grateful for that," Aronson and Park said.