The lead singer of the renowned K-pop boy band has dispelled such concerns with his performances in the popular Korean War (1950-1953) musical. His sensitive portrayal of a teenage boy scarred by wartime family tragedy was so convincing, he has been asked to join the production's Japan tour in September.
He recently sat down with The Korea Times to share the backstory of his transformation from a singer to a stage actor. How does performing as a musical actor compare with his first job?
"It's like comparing pizza to fried chicken. They are both tasty, but they have distinct flavors," Ryeowook said during a Korea Times interview at a cafe in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, on July 7. "When I am performing as Super Junior, I am the youngest and I enjoy working with my group. In theater, I feel responsible as I represent Super Junior, but it also brings inexplicable joy," he said.
"At least this is certain — I want to try more musical roles."
Set during the Korean War, "Goddess" is a fictional tale of four North Korean soldiers and two South Korean soldiers who find themselves abandoned on an uninhabited island after an unexpected storm. They are at feud with each other at first, but soon choose to survive together, putting aside the ideological confrontation under the aegis of the goddess of the island.
The singer-actor, who at 27 can still pass as a young boy with a sweet voice and pale complexion, called the acting experience a "blessing." "I discovered the joy of telling a story through music in theater," he said.
The idol star alternated the role of Sun-ho, a mentally unstable teenage North Korean soldier, suffering from war trauma, with fellow actors Jeon Seong-woo, Shin Sung-min and Lee Jae-kyun. As Sun-ho is the only navy in the party who knows how to fix the broken vessel, five other castaways wheedle him into repairing the ship.
From idol star to musical actor
Since its premiere last year, the musical went viral among theatergoers for its lush melodies and impassioned acting.
"I already knew of songs of ‘Goddess' before joining the show," he said. "I was pleased when the initial concerns about my acting were later turned into positive reviews. Now I can confidently tell my fans that they can come to see musical actor Ryeowook, not a member of Super Junior."
Ryeowook had to make extra efforts. "I needed to do more than just sing well to prove my worthy in this project," he said. "To be honest, I did let down the director and crews during early rehearsals. They said that I could not separate Sun-ho from Super Junior's Ryeowook. There were worries about my inability to connect with the audience as a stage actor."
When he took his final bow on July 5, he couldn't hold back his tears.
"When receiving a curtain call, I got all choked up and began to weep uncontrollably. I realized how much I had been immersed in my character."
Though Ryeowook had previously appeared in musicals such as "Temptation of Wolf" in 2011 and "High School Musical" in 2013 playing high school students, he still felt pressure in acting Sun-ho, a boy with severe mood swings. "It was tough and rewarding," he said. "I had only performed teenage boys onstage, but unlike the first two characters, the mentally-challenged Sun-ho stirs up a protective instinct."
As Korean musicals gain popularity overseas, "Goddess" is heading to Japan this fall. Ryeowook is joining the Japanese tour.
While he enjoys a strong fan base there as a Super Junior member, it will be his first time there as an actor. "I just finished my run as Sun-ho in Korea, but I would love do more. As a musical actor, I will show a different side of me to my Japanese fans," he said.
A little knowledge on the Korean War would help viewers connect with the story, but Ryeowook thinks the show has a universal message. "You don't really need to know much about the Korean War to sympathize with the characters. People of all nations understand the nature of war," Ryeowook said.
Ryeowook finished his run, but "The Goddess Is Watching" continues through July 27 at Yonkang Hall of Doosan Art Center in Jongno, downtown Seoul. Tickets cost 50,000 to 70,000 won. For more information, call 1544-1555 or visit www.interpark.com.
source: Baek Byung-yeul @ Korea Times
„some were skeptical of his acting skills (...)” - srsly, people need to watch Attack on the pin-up boys