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AMERICAN THEATRE | Why My Journey With ‘KPOP’ Feels Like a Broadway Homecoming

The solid of “KPOP” on Broadway. (Photograph by Matthew Murphy)

In April 2017, Emily Shooltz, former affiliate inventive director of Ars Nova, reached out to gauge my curiosity in a “large, immersive musical about Okay-pop.” My identify was handed alongside by César Alvarez, who I had met shortly after they established the Polyphone Pageant at College of the Arts in Philadelphia. The present had already lined up a music director and have been seeking to fortify the group with an affiliate music director. The choice was simple for me: a powerful sure. How might I move up the chance to collaborate with Korean and Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) creatives, in addition to a solid composed predominantly of Koreans? It appeared unreal.

I’m an adopted Korean American who grew up within the suburbs of Albany. The closest proximity I needed to Korean tradition was my finest buddy Ann, a first-generation Korean American (or second era, by Korean parameters). I used to be one in every of a small (although important) group of Korean adoptees in my neighborhood. And whereas my dad and mom made a number of makes an attempt to hyperlink me up with my identification from a really younger age, none of them caught. It wasn’t till my late 20s that I started to embrace and revel in my heritage.

In the meantime my obsession with musical theatre began early, with Fiddler on the Roof and The Fantasticks because the ABCs. Towards the top of elementary college, my dad and mom began taking me all the way down to Manhattan for two-show-day adventures. We’d get in line at TKTS (often farther again), and one in every of my dad and mom would stroll me as much as the board to view choices. There have been no apps or on-line postings or TodayTix then, so this ritual turned a time-honored custom. I couldn’t wait to see what was a whopping 50 % off! My first Broadway present was The Secret Backyard. These sporadic weekend journeys continued by center and highschool.

The day we noticed Lease, my molecules modified ceaselessly. I couldn’t have named it then, however seeing a tapestry of racial identities present collectively in a contemporary context was vastly impactful. I had been performing in class musicals, however hadn’t thought-about that there might be a spot for somebody who seems to be like me on the industrial stage. With a fireplace in my intestine, I ended up pursuing a BFA in musical theatre efficiency at Ithaca Faculty.

And now right here I’m. On Broadway. Along with KPOP‘s 18 performer debuts on Broadway, there are a selection of debuts among the many artistic and manufacturing groups, together with my very own. I’ve been knowledgeable music director for the higher a part of the final 15 years, and will by no means have imagined the serendipity of creating my debut with such a historic piece of musical theatre.

Contemplate: Till now, there have been simply seven Broadway musicals, all falling into the class of “interval piece,” that featured an AAPI presence (which I outline as exceeding a single character). Till pretty just lately, most weren’t authored by AAPI people:

South Pacific (1949, 2008 revival) by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan
The King & I (1951, revivals in 1977, 1985, 1996, 2015) by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Flower Drum Tune (1958, 2002 revival) by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joseph Fields (with the addition of David Henry Hwang for the 2002 Broadway revival)
Pacific Overtures (1976, 2004 revival) by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman
Miss Saigon (1989, 2017 revival) by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil
Shogun (1990) by Paul Chihara and John Driver
Allegiance (2015) by Jay Kuo, Lorenzo Thione, and Marc Acito

Into this combine comes KPOP, penned by Jason Kim, Helen Park, and Max Vernon. But it surely’s not simply the truth that this musical facilities AAPI our bodies and tales that thrills me; it’s also that we’re spending time with individuals in up to date circumstances, grappling with timeless tensions like the non-public price of ambition, the character of authenticity, and parentage. (The final theme is of specific poignancy for me, as somebody who went by the foster system in South Korea earlier than being adopted at 5 months previous.)

Jeff Bowen and Amanda Morton in rehearsal for “KPOP.” (Photograph by Rick Smoland)

KPOP calls to thoughts parts of exhibits I really like dearly, together with A Refrain Line and Gypsy, inside a culturally particular container by which the characters course of battle—a container that will really feel unfamiliar to the standard Broadway-going viewers at first look, however is deeply related to musical theatre custom at its core.

In New York Metropolis, a cosmopolitan ambiance wealthy with progressive thinkers, it could appear fairly pure for a manufacturing like this to roll into the 2022 Broadway season, particularly after the “racial reckoning” we’ve all come by and proceed to grapple with. However I wish to draw your consideration to this: It’s a radical act. To witness these charismatic, hungry, hopeful younger AAPI artists navigate a narrative the place they get to be nuanced, humorous, and flawed trendy characters on a Broadway stage is really groundbreaking! It’s a story I by no means thought I’d see, and one which I imagine can have a profound impression on how AAPI People lower by actuality, pursuing desires with a stronger sense of confidence than I had rising up.

I really like musical theatre with my entire self. It has been my house for so long as I can bear in mind, each personally and professionally. I’ve had the nice fortune of seeing exhibits on Broadway since I used to be 12. To now be a part of a theatre season there, amongst icons of all generations, is a dizzying honor. However to be there with KPOP—this love letter to the American musical theatre, and an open hand inviting you to expertise a pioneering aspect of Korean tradition—makes me really feel like I belong.

Amanda Morton (she/her) is a music director based mostly out of the NYC area.

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