Friday, 16 November 2012

For K-Pop Fans in Seoul: A Must-See Korean Musicale, HWARANG

At the Korea In Motion (KOINMO) opening ceremony last September 1, 2012, my friend Sharise and I were seated right in front of the stage eager to see for the first time these performances which make up Korea In Motion's showcase. There were non-verbal performances complete with drums and other percussion instruments, but what really caught our attention was the only featured Korea musicale, Hwarang, performed by five male actors. 

Even on the first bars of the opening song sung by one of the five actors, one could already tell that these guys can really sing. It was obvious they had vocal training. And even after just one song, whose lyrics we didn't even understand, we were totally impressed! I asked myself, how come I didn't know about this show?  I have heard about JUMP or Nanta or B-boy Who Loves a Ballerina, but not this musicale?

But that night's excerpts from Hwarang were just a preview for the KOINMO audience. This was after all the opening ceremony to launch the campaign to promote performances available to tourists and locals in Seoul. And that campaign lasted the whole month of September 2012, where excerpts from these performances were featured at the Korea In Motion open stage right outside the Korea Tourism Organization main offices near Cheonggye-cheon

         (The Hwarang billboard in front of the Star City building)

So, when another friend, Cielo, who came to visit last month from Manila, asked me which performance to watch, I recommended this musicale. But I warned her though that this was entirely in Korean. 

And off we visited the Star City building in Hyewha-dong, where Hwarang was staged. We got our tickets, our seats and just resigned to the idea that, even though we may not understand the lyrics and the dialogues, we may actually enjoy the show. 
     (We caught the Super Team's performance that night)

And we were impressed!  We didn't understand the Korean lyrics and dialogues, but we tried to decipher from the acting, the expressions, the dancing on stage and of course, the songs and the voices of these actors. Their voices had range, were firm and technically good, which brought out the melodies of songs throughout the performance. And how well they all blended! It was very obvious that they had hours and hours of practicing the songs together.

There are two teams who alternate during the week: the Super Team and the Star Team. And that night, it was the Super Team's turn.

The whole show lasted almost two hours with no intermission, but we were never bored. It was the melody, the showmanship and the voices that actually made it interesting for us, two of the non-Korean speaking audience. There were a few foreigners in the crowd, but I could not say if they understood the language.

                       (The Super Team taking a bow)

And one thing we also clear: most of the audience members were female, which must explain the draw of the all-male cast. These guys were picked to play the roles, not only because they have very good singing voices, but also they are good-looking! The handbill of the musicale says that the story is set in the old Korean times, but is presented in the K-pop style: from songs to dancing to the looks. And I guess the formula has succeeded in drawing the giggles in the crowd!

The title, Hwarang, represented a group of young elite soldiers during the Silla dynasty. And this story of how these five young Hwarang aspirants struggled attain that status in their society was written by a young writer, Lee Ojin and the songs were composed by Cha Gyeongchan. Lee Ojin also wrote the lyrics. This is being directed by Mr. Seong Cheon-mo.

This musicale has been staged at more than four theaters for a couple of years now, and there have been eight to nine teams who have played these roles, with some former cast members, I was told, going on to play bigger roles in other shows. 

If a new team is being groomed to replace an old one, it takes about three months of training and rehearsals to perfect the songs, the dialogue, the stunts and of course, to get into the character of each of the five Hwarangs, which, by the way, has its own fan club. It's not a surprise that these actors have a following. 

                     (The Super Team cast that night)

So, if you're a K-pop fan and have a free time to watch a Korean musicale...
  • just take a quick subway ride to Hyehwa Station, Line 4.
  •  And from Exit 3, make a U-turn until you reach an alley marked by Coffine Gurunaru, a purple-colored coffee shop. 
  • Follow that alley for about 50 meters until you see the tall building, Star City
  • The front of the Star City building displays the Hwarang billboard. 
  • The theater is on the 7th floor, where you can get tickets.
As of this writing, the performance schedule is:

Tuesdays to Fridays: 8PM
Saturdays: 3PM and 7PM
Sundays: 5PM
Mondays: no performance

Ticket prices:
Regular price: KRW 40,000
Students:        KRW 20,000 (student I.D. required)
Employees:     KRW30,000 (business card 
                           or employment I.D.)
Fans:              KRW26,000 (must show the old Hwarang
                               ticket or Hwarang point card)
Handicapped: KRW 20,000 (must show a certificate 
                               of disability)

Or you can call these numbers for inquiries in English:

Their Korean website:

And in case you want to know more about the musicale and the actors, a few behind-the-scene videos are on their Youtube channel.

P.S. Thanks to Miss Esther of the MJ Company, the producer, for a few tidbits and some of the photos above.

And they also have music CDs of the musical which contains a few selected songs.

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