Tag Archives: backup dancer

Theater: Blue Square presents ‘In the Heights’

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Seoul’s production of “In the Heights” in the Samsung Card Hall at Blue Square. SCREAMfmLondon

“In the Heights” is a much-acclaimed musical centered on a Dominican-American neighborhood in Washington Heights in New York City. So you might’ve guessed why it’s slightly weird to see this musical put on in Seoul in the Samsung Card Hall at Blue Square.

Seoul’s “In the Heights” production is highly entertaining, of course. The cast even impressively weaves Spanish and English (as well as hip-hop and salsa dancing) into the all-Korean script. The show is executed flawlessly: the singing is superb, the acting is charming and the dancing is lively. All it is lacking is the emotional connection, because so much of the story is deeply connected to the characters’ ethnic backgrounds.

The original Broadway production of “In the Heights” was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won several Tony Awards for his music, lyrics and acting and is currently performing on Broadway as Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” for which he also wrote the music and lyrics.

“In the Heights” centers on Usnavi, a character born in the Dominican Republic and named after a US Navy ship (one of the first things his parents saw in America). With his comic relief sidekick, Sonny, Usnavi runs a bodega that is frequented by the neighborhood residents.

These include: Benny, the aspiring businessman who works as a dispatcher at the cab company and is the play’s only non-Latino character; Nina, who has returned home for the summer to reveal to her parents that she dropped out of Stanford University; and Vanessa, a hairstylist who dreams of getting an apartment of her own and moving away from the Barrio.

The Seoul production features a rotating group of k-pop stars and actors in the lead roles. The performance I attended saw Infinite’s Jang Dong-woo and Kim Sung-kyu as Usnavi and Benny, Oh So-yeon as Vanessa and Kim Bo-kyung as Nina.

The cast’s talent and passion is unquestionable. The best moments are the musical’s large, ensemble numbers that fully utilize the backup dancers — “Carnaval del Barrio,” “Blackout” and “96,000,” during which the entire neighborhood comes out to fantasize about winning $96,000 in the lottery.

The main cast was, overall, very impressive. So-yeon and Bo-kyung both demonstrated powerful vocals (although Vanessa is an infinitely more interesting character than Nina, who is kind of a drag).

Dongwoo and Sungkyu were incredibly charming in their roles. Dongwoo had great comedic timing and command of the stage, and Sungkyu developed excellent chemistry with his co-stars and was very likeable throughout. It was a pleasure to watch them explore the personalities of their characters. However, this was the first time in my life I’ve ever seen fans rush the stage at the end of a musical theater production, like we were about to open up the mosh pit. I was all but clutching my pearls.

It was worth it, though. “In the Heights” is a good show, and although it makes less sense overseas than it would in the US, the Seoul cast and crew have done nice work with the material. I hope we’ll get to see “Hamilton” next!

‘In the Heights’
294 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu
Weekdays at 8 p.m., weekends at 2 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday through November 22
Tickets range from 70,000 – 130,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.interpark.com.

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I performed at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival

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Infinite closes out the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival with a performance of their recent single, “Bad.” SCREAMfmLondon

I hear the roaring applause of thousands of k-pop fans as I’m nailing every moment of my chicken-inspired choreography. I land my final jumps, and the crowd goes wild. Then, I have to hurry off the stage because world-renowned pop superstar Psy is up next.

That’s (basically) (more or less) how it went down when I performed as a backup dancer for Korean comedian Kim Young-chul’s set at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival on Aug. 4. The four-hour concert boasted performances from artists such as GOT7, Infinite, T-ara, Crayon Pop and Psy.

And me, of course.

SM Entertainment, sign me up

The adventure began around 7 p.m. the night before the concert, when the dancers were all herded en masse through several crowded subway transfers until we reached our stage at Seoul City Hall.

At the venue, we were quickly taught the moves and positioned onstage, where we ran the dance until 9 p.m. We had no idea what song we were dancing to until the next day, but, boy, were we dancing. We danced and danced, were given disapproving looks, and then we danced some more.

The choreographer seemed quite exasperated every time we failed to perform our dance in perfect synchronization, but I’m pretty sure that the steps were different every time we ran through it. I’m also pretty sure that they were making it up as we went along.

He was terribly intimidating (even when he congratulated us on a job well done at the end of the concert). I felt like I was in an audition for a Very Serious entertainment agency. Which was actually super fun for me. I was having a blast. I could do that all day every day. SM Entertainment, sign me up!

SM Entertainment, don’t call me — I’ll call you

The next day, we arrived bright and early to our dance team holding tent backstage while fans were already staking out spots on the lawn to watch their favorite groups.

“We just saw some k-pop stars!” one of the girls exclaimed excitedly as she ran up to our group. “I think it was Infinite!”

‘No way,’ I thought. ‘I am sitting around in this sweltering tent backstage for six hours because I don’t actually have a life, and what else would I be doing? If I was an actual k-pop star, I’d show up like five minutes before I had to be onstage. And I’d demand a dressing room or something.’

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Super Junior’s Zhou Mi gets ready backstage before emceeing the concert on Aug. 4. SCREAMfmLondon

But no sooner had the thought occurred to me than Infinite themselves popped out of their own black tarp tent and made the glamorous journey toward a shared porta-potty. Along the way, they resignedly waved at the jittery fans who were intently watching said journey to the porta-potty.

Amazing! Not only were they, in fact, sitting around in their backstage tent longer than I was, but they also had a lot more pressure surrounding the general porta-potty experience than I have ever dealt with. Possibly, I do not want to be a k-pop star after all. SM Entertainment, don’t call me — I’ll call you.

Make it happen

Once the seats were beginning to fill, we went onstage for our soundcheck. This was the first time we’d heard the song we’d be dancing to — a remix of Kim Young-chul saying “Cheer up, superpower” on an episode of “Infinity Challenge.” It was also the first time we’d met him, but we were pumped. I was pumped. I was ready to roll, ready to party, ready to dance on the very floor where Nam Woo-hyun would also dance.

I felt even better when we came off the stage from our soundcheck, hurrying down the right side of the staircase because Infinite was making their way up the left for their own soundcheck. ‘Yes, this feels right. This is where I belong. Me and Psy — we’re like peers, really.’

Finally, the time came for our official, broadcast-ready performance. We waited patiently in the wings while MCs Zhou Mi of Super Junior, Lee Hong-bin of VIXX and Park Ji-yeon of T-ara gave an introduction. As they passed us on the stairs, Zhou Mi gave us a thumbs-up and whispered, “Fighting!” I grinned. We’re totally peers.

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Why aren’t there any better-quality videos of my moment?! Yours truly, second from the left. SCREAMfmLondon

I felt so alive with all of those confused eyes on me as I wildly flapped my arms in tune to the song. ‘Yep, this is the life,’ I thought. My face was projected on the screens at both sides of the stage as I danced my heart out. I hope Psy saw it, and I hope he appreciates my passion. My face was broadcast on SBS MTV throughout South Korea as I danced my heart out. I hope everybody saw it, and I hope they appreciate my passion.

It went great. The crowd didn’t know what to do with themselves. It was the greatest thing they’d ever seen, I assume.

The Summer K-pop Concert

Exhilarated from the performance, we eventually took our seats in the audience to watch the rest of the concert clutching towels and posters painted with the phrase “I LOVE K-POP.”

It was awesome. Psy was electrifying, and he got the entire crowd up and dancing to “Gentleman” (such a jam) and other hits that shall not be named. He played an unprecedented four songs, and I loved every moment of it. He’s such an incredible entertainer — I’m absolutely certain that I screamed louder for him than any of the boy bands.

GOT7 was awfully super adorable with “Just Right,” which was tragically the only song they performed at the show. The bubbly you’re-perfect-just-the-way-you-are vibe is the cutest and will never fail to warm my heart. I also love the accompanying dance. Watching professionals like GOT7 command the stage really reminded me what dancing is supposed to look like after spending so much time looking at myself dance (or try to, anyway).

Infinite was wonderful, as always. They performed “Bad” from the recently-released mini-album “Reality,” and then closed the show with a more somber ballad. “Bad” is a really awesome song with a theatrical, Hans Zimmer-style introduction and a dark, sexy overtone. It shows off the strengths of several band members — namely Dongwoo, whose rap verse and featured dance were some of the highlights of the performance.

Altogether, I had a blast at the concert. It was one of the most entertaining strange situations I’ve ever inserted myself into. I sincerely hope I get to do it again. SM Entertainment, I’m back onboard.

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Psy performs at the 2015 Summer K-pop Festival. SCREAMfmLondon