The Musical 더 뮤지컬(2011) Korean Drama Review

The Musical (2011) Korean Drama Review 

It is a train wreck but the only K-drama attempt to look into the musical industry. It is still not worth seeing!

Keyword:#더뮤지컬 #KuHyeSun #DanielChoi #ParkKiWoong #OkJooHyun #Kdrama

Hello. This is a  Korean in America. In this article, we will be discussing a series about Musical actors whose job was the “fashionable job of the month” during the early 2010s in Korea.

In K-dramas, there are only a few fashionable jobs at any point in time. There are the staples such as conglomerate executive who does something important but the audience does not really understand what the job requires. There are the trendy jobs of the moment such as drama script writers (e.g.  On Air)  or fashion designers (e.g. Fashion King).  It was the musical jobs turn during the early 2010s. There was a night club singer in “Gloria” (2010). There was the female “Rock” band in “I Am Legend” (2010). During the 2011s, it was the musical actors turn with “The Musical”.

This is understandable since, during that period, the musical medium was on a high in Korea. However, even at its highest, the industry was never large enough to make becoming a musical actor a serious job in the eyes in Korean society. I mean, becoming a K-pop star would have a better probability of success than becoming a musical star because of the size of the industry. As a result, musical actor as a job did not stay long in the public consciousness compared to other jobs such as fashion designers. Even advertisers had a longer shelf life as the “fashionable job of the month”. As a result, the series “The Musical” was the only real K-drama with musical actors and the musical industry as its core. It is a shame that it only brought shame to the job!

The plot
“The Musical” is a series about a musical actress wanna-bie played by Koo Hye-seon and a famous but disillusioned musical composer played by Choi Daniel trying to put on stage an original musical in an industry that focuses on blockbuster foreign imports. The series tracks this process starting from audiences to curtain call. And there is the K-drama love stuff shoved in also.

The failures of Musicals on TV
Musicals, as a genre, has never been well suited for regular TV. I mean how many TV series were either being a musical or about musicals were actually successful. Let’s think about it! Even in the U.S. with its larger talent base, there is no example. There is “Smash” which crashed and burned after 2 seasons. There was “Viva Laughlin” which was canceled after something like 2 episodes. The truth is that musical or any show with music at the center is difficult to make and sustain. When “Buffy” did its musical episode, everyone thought it was a risk. With straight musical such as “Viva Laughlin”, the whole suspension of disbelief is difficult to maintain. With shows about the musical industry such as “Smash”, it is a little easier since there are many devices that can be used to circumvent this problem. However, the main problem still remains. It is the music!

Musicals, by the name of the genre itself, we expect the music to be good. In fact, in musicals, the music does most of the heavy lifting on the stage. Just see any great musical such as “the phantom of the opera” or “Les miserable”. The script is not that good on its own.  However, good music is not an easy thing to come up with! Just see the Phantom of the Opera Sequel, “Love Never Dies”. It has only one good song and it was a block buster Broadway musical! So, it is not surprise that the show tanked on Broadway.

To be frank, good music is far more difficult to come up with compared to dialog or drama in regard to filling up air time. So, it is not a surprise that the only real successful musical TV show in like two decades was “Glee” which is a juke box musical show. In other words, there is no original music and all the songs are covers of pop music songs. This shortage of music tends to cause the creative team to overcompensate with more drama than they could handle. “Smash” is a good example as its plot when out of control. “Glee”, on the other hand, did not care about the plot….

The series take the Musical industry
The K-drama series, “The Musical”, took a similar approach. It went for a serious portrayal of the Musical industry and tried to show the inner workings of how a musical is put on stage. The problem with this is that they bit off much more than they could deliver. First, K-dramas do not have a good track record with handling realism. This comes in conflict with the K-drama tropes that the audience requires. The series “On Air” would be one of the only few successful example of a balanced portrayal of the broadcast industry. 

Second, there was no way that it would be able to come up with enough good original music for its 15 episode run. Having the process of putting up an original musical requires some original songs. However,  “The Musical” only really had one decent song that got repeated over and over. This is the same for “I Am Legend”. At the same time, “The Musical” did not take the juke-box musical approach. This is not surprising since Korea hasn’t found a good way of using their K-pop songs as musical numbers. I do not know why this is although their focus on more club music may be a reason for this.

Over Compensating 
So, how does the creative team compensate for these deficiencies?  The thing they come up with is shove as much K-drama tropes in the latter half part.
During the first 6 or 7 episodes, the series is faithful to its concept. It shows how difficult to put on a musical and how much preparation is required. Yes, there was a semi-love square in there. However, it was not emphasized. The third wheel gal, Bae Kang Hee, seemed to have some obsession problems but still showed her professionalism suited to her stature as a major musical actress.  The forth wheel guy was somehow made up to be the bad guy but he never become much and was not too much of a problem since his role was not a focus of the series.

When the musical, they were intending the put on, lost its funding, the show went off the end of no return! While before they kept using the same song over and over, now there was almost no music at all. I mean no music!  What is a series about a musical without music? The relationship between the leads also suddenly goes over-dramatic for no good reason. You had a relationship was taking its time to develop and it becomes a melodramatic tragic relationship that pushes the relationship to the realm of unbelievable.

Bae Kang Hee goes mental with her obsession for the Hong Jae-Yi who is the composer. It sometime feels like “Misery” without the suspense and great acting. Damn, the girl needs a bucket full of Prozac and a straight jacket. She is the first character that I really noticed to desperately need professional psychological help! Now, I see them everywhere in K-dramas.

So, you have to ride the crazy train for longer than the good early parts of the series while seeing that the bridge is out. It is a painful ride especially since the early good parts shows promise even though it was somewhat dry and slowish in its pacing. The acting was not bad and the backstage industry stuff was interesting. The male and female leads had some good chemistry and they took their time developing the relationship starting from a teacher-student relationship. I even liked the one good song they had!  The singing was overall not bad since they actually got some musical actors. My impression of the change would be a Jekyll and Hyde transformation which coincidentally a pretty famous musical also.  

At the end
Overall, the series is a mess which is difficult to recommend. While the early parts are decent, it is still rather slow and had work to do with its pacing. The latter parts are just boring and crazy at the same time. The series seemed to have no overall vision from the start which is not good for a series that is dealing with an unknown subject and a difficult medium. For a fan of the musical genre, it is a shame that this train wreck is the only musical subject K-drama series we got!

Score: F  or 0/10

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  1. what about "what's up?" was that about a musical or just a music school? It was on at the same time as The Musical. I didn't watch either one (too melo)

  2. Don' really know as it didn't get on my radar. I do not think that they actually sing,

  3. This series started with so much promise, it was devastating to watch it go down the tube and waste the actors time and talent.

  4. yes it was!!!

  5. I am watching Empress ChunChu at the moment. ( Historical drama playing around 975 AD . Made in 2009, 78 episodes.)
    There is a fair share of music in this drama, more than usual.
    People playing alone or with a partner, gisaengs dancing and making music, music on large events in the Palaces: It is all done very well and much too short for my taste. I love classical music anyway.

    Makes me think: How about a time-travel-drama, where a modern group ( Dream High-style ) ends up in Joseon somewhere where they have to learn the do's and don't's of Joseon ? ( Modern girl in training for gisaeng, the stud of the group chosen to become an eunuch ? ) Room for comedy, drama and lot's of modern and classical music !