NYC. December 7th, 2022
KPOP The Musical on Broadway is extraordinary.
I don't say that lightly.
I saw a dress many weeks ago. I threw some unsolicited thoughts at one of my colleagues working on it. I left. I was not prepared for the shattering experience the show has evolved into.
I fought the wind, and I sloshed through the rain. The sun descended into the horizon; and I went to see a show last night that smashed theater.
Covid's endless lingering and a never ending cycle of American political performance art seems to have swept us into a malaise; a collective trauma of endless worry, bickering, uncertainty, and, of course, illness. Everything is broken in a way. No. Scratch that. Everything is desperately fractured. Theater is no exception. Perhaps theater is the prime example, actually. And KPOP seems to explode through the cracked crevices with startling beauty. It is jaw dropping...and it is worth pausing, and taking real notice.
We've been so afraid to share air for the past three years. THREE YEARS. And in blasts KPOP.
It's a bubble gum pop dream concert extravaganza with scenes that, in mirage-like fashion, drift backward and forward and backward, lightly hinting at narrative threads (that are full-on odes to old-school musical theater) that swirl through a circle in a square. And we breathe it all in, fearlessly. A succulent meditation on a global pop phenomenon. I have never seen a show like KPOP The Musical on Broadway (on or off Broadway). And, as my friend Teddy says, "The cast of a lifetime burns the stage to ashes."
They do. I witnessed this. And they are *just* starting. They are *just* at the start of their runway. The engine is *just* revving.
Broadway's KPOP is hard to intellectualize, and impossible to categorize. Yet, that seems to be what so many are furiously trying to do; but KPOP bursts through the ether and transcends. It did so *in a way* back in 2017, and it is most certainly doing so now. I would argue - now, moreso. It's a brilliant reinvention and repossession. Critical bodies in theater can retroactively fall in love with a certain modality and enshrine it (forgetting that that modality, at the time, was new). But, yo - word to the wise - 2017's KPOP was not a smash hit with the critics, so it's incredibly curious now how several seem to miss it. The KPOP of 2017 was a voyeuristic exploration, and a more cynical enterprise. It prized a kind of exoticization of KPop (and I was more connected to that version as an ideator). Now, with Broadway's KPOP, the initial concept has not only expanded - it has been turned in on itself. It delights in its whimsy and exquisite allure more than it reprimands it or 'examines' it. It acknowledges the voyeur and salaciousness seeker, and it shifts the focus with a kind of lollipop f*ck you, and invites everyone to sing and dance, scream and yell, and feel, viscerally, outwardly.
It is exhilarating. It is propulsive. Audiences can barely sit still. It is FUN. Remember fun?!
Woodshed Collective, the company I helped found - and one of the co-conceivers of the original show - has never been a critical darling, but we thrive on rattling the cage and collecting cult followings. We've always been imperfect innovators. We've also never been known to do the same thing twice. Even with a second iteration, we move to re-invention. Woodshed aside, KPOP on Broadway is a SIGNIFICANT re-invention. A new torso on the same body-palette. It's extremely risky, and one of the most courageous things I have ever seen in 20 years of NY theater.
The design, across the board, is obscenely stunning. The music is groundbreaking genius. The performances are full bodied dynamite (with far too many moments to list - from Jully Lee's hilarious, sharply gritted snaps to Abraham Lim's epic voice to Amy Keum's tender notes when she went on for MwE). 18 Broadway debuts by young performers so talented it (literally) knocks you over, as the theater shakes with raucous charm. The direction is a stroke of maestro embroiderment. The story is impressionistic flair. The dancing and the singing and the choreography are so, so, so impressive, I actually don't know what to say about them.
As the years have rolled by, we have gotten more and more nuanced criticism. I have witnessed the tenor change and shift and mature. Sadly, though, there is still a kind of archaic, Western infatuation with the critic who embodies the jerk, the snob, the dude, and the whiner - one who always wishes the show were something different. And, for me, it's not so much a problem that this type of critic exists; it's that they still have outsized influence. The attitudinal, snappy, personality driven reviewers, as opposed to those who provide actual inspection and intensive, well-rounded dramaturgy, continue to flaunt; and they often capitalize on a certain bro-cool obnoxiousness, and relish a dick-driven power. (I am sure you have no idea what I am talking about;). I will just say, AT BEST, the dismissive use of highly sensitive phraseology and off-key (pun intended) analysis of the use of Korean in a show about Korean pop (sparingly used KOREAN in a show about KOREAN POP) is piercingly disquieting.
Some critics have caught onto KPOP. Others, clearly, don't know where their assholes are, and they are 100 steps behind, looking backward. And the future is standing right in front of you, like it or not. The future is upon all of us.
The show's fans return over and over and over...and over. These theatergoers are hungry, adventurous seekers of something electric, something new, something commercial, something dazzling, something Korean, something New York, something GLOBAL. Something outside of themselves and our tiny silos.
As a culture, we've become so much more insular, and Covid ratcheted up the insularity to an intolerable degree. We have become trapped in our pajamas, in the underground, afraid to see the beaming light.
Broadway's KPOP begs you to open. It seduces you to come out, to embrace, and be embraced with whole-hearted euphoria. It blasts off, past the dark underbelly, the bro-cool, dark underbelly that I, myself, think I love to love... but do I? I don't know now. KPOP eludes the navel gazing, hyper pseudo intellectual greater-than-thou American hubris, and asks for something kinder. Something more vulnerable. Something more connected and spectacular and tolerant and lovely and loving. KPOP makes me wonder.
Tangible euphoria is where we are going next. Broadway's KPOP is already there. And Broadway has never been this fun. No, really. The world is opening. And we're missing it. WE ARE MISSING IT.
I sat next to a young woman who said she planned to attend every night this week. When I inquired about what compelled her, she said: "I just, I don't know, I just LOVE IT!"
I BEG YOU - do everything you can to catch it. It is a heroic enchantment.