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Musical 'Mata Hari' eyes global audience from the onset

All Headlines 18:11 March 08, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- The mysterious and splendorous life of Dutch dancer "Mata Hari" will be brought to life once again in a musical in South Korea.

On Tuesday, the production team of the original musical said it has set its eyes on the global audience from the very beginning since they believed the compelling story of the femme fatal has universal appeal.

The musical centers around Frisian-born dancer Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, a.k.a Mata Hari, whose dance performances in a bejeweled brassier and not much else -- seen as scandalous in the early 1900s -- took France and much of the Europe by storm. Her exotic beauty and audacious, alluring dance moves set her apart in the Moulin Rouge in Paris and triggered as much attention as jealousy. After living a glamorous yet treacherous life, she was shot dead on a chilly October morning in 1917 by a French firing squad for allegedly spying for the Germans, an allegation that some people still question.

Musical composer Frank Wildhorn, popular for his work in "Jekyll & Hyde," was among many who were captivated by the story about this mysterious woman. Wildhorn later suggested to Eom Hong-hyun, CEO of EMK Musical Company in Seoul, that they work together to breathe the unfortunate woman new life by creating the original musical.

Eom, in turn, happily and readily accepted the idea. After all, he was looking for a story idea for an upcoming musical.

"I wanted to make a musical that has broad appeal, not only in Asia but also in the world," he said on Tuesday during a press conference in central Seoul.

It was not the first time for the duo to work together. Previously they teamed up on the Seoul run of musical "The Count of Monte Cristo."

"I have always had this wonderful relationship with Korean audiences but for Mr. Eom to take this chance to say 'Let's not just import things, we can create things here, we have all the talents to do that here,' and seeing it all come true is very a humble, grateful and proud experience," Wildhorn said.

The lengthy production process that started full steam in 2012 required that staff frequently travel back and forth between Korea and the U.S., including the script reading workshop in New York in August 2014 that involved more than 100 industry experts and Broadway musical stars.

Creating a musical was "really challenging and incredibly difficult" said director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun. The set, built in a humongous warehouse outside Seoul, was particularly important for him since he believed the musical set in the 20th century is "transition stance" as much as "cast," and it should wow the viewers with its cinematic effects.

"I try very hard to learn Korean sensibility and taste, mix it with our own American sensibility and create something that will be embraced in London's West End, New York Broadway, and quite frankly all over the world," said Calhoun.

The musical is also the talk of the town for its 25 billion won (US$20.7 million) production cost and its all-star cast including popular singer Ok Joo-hyun as the tragic dancer and veteran musical actors Shin Seong-rok and Song Chang-eui for male leads Ladoux and Armand, respectively.

The musical will premiere on March 29 in Seoul and runs until June 12.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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