KPOP began as an immersive musical co-produced by Ars Nova, Ma-Yi Theater, and Woodshed Collective, all of which have produced work I've loved in the past. With backing from a slew of producers, it was reimagined for Broadway, and is playing now at Circle in the Square, where the U-shaped seating and digital projections make it feel as immersive as can be expected on a traditional Broadway stage.
The Broadway production also gained star power in casting the Korean pop singer Luna in the leading role of MwE. I didn't get a chance to see Luna in the show, as the understudy Amy Keum went on last night. Keum normally plays the role of Ivy, so the swing actor Marina Kondo went on in that role, but both were brilliant, as can usually be expected of Broadway understudies. The entire cast, in fact, was amazing, and the play's first act was some of the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time.
Not only is the music infectiously upbeat and joyful, but the set designed by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn continually shifted to reveal new surprises. (A technical glitch last night was one more surprise than the cast anticipated, but after a brief pause, the show was able to resume.) Best of all, the first act set up a very interesting conflict between the young superstar MwE and her mentor Ruby, played by Jully Lee making her Broadway debut. The conflict between MwE and Ruby brought out the dark side of celebrity and fame, asking us to question what it's all for anyway.
Unfortunately, the play loses the focus on the central conflict in the second act, opting instead to pit blame on a smarmy American documentary filmmaker named Harry, played by Aubie Merrylees. Harry makes a nice villain for us to love to hate, but ultimately he's not nearly as interesting a character as Ruby or MwE, and I wish the authors had spent more of the second act developing their conflict instead. When the tense scenes give way to a fun-filled celebration at the end, the audience was brought to their feet with enthusiasm, but I personally missed some of the explorations of character that had been hinted at earlier in the play.
None of this should detract from the magnificent achievements of KPOP, though, and people should definitely see it. Unfortunately, they'll have to act fast. The show is scheduled to close on December 11th!
Incidentally, that's also the closing performance of my production of A Christmas Carol at Passage Theatre Company in Trenton, so see them both before they disappear....