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Chun-soo Shin hopes to translate success to Broadway

The theater producer has profited from the growing popularity of American-style musicals in Korea and hopes to become a major Broadway player.

March 13, 2013|By David Ng, Los Angeles Times
  • Chun-soo Shin has his sights set on Broadway.
Chun-soo Shin has his sights set on Broadway. (OD Musical Company )

His offices in Seoul are nearly 7,000 miles from New York — a 14-hour flight made several times a year — but that hasn't deterred Chun-soo Shin from his bid to become a major Broadway player.

One of Korea's top theater producers, Shin has already made money off the growing popularity of American-style musicals in his native country. His hits include "Dreamgirls" and "Jekyll & Hyde," the latter of which has become one of the most popular musicals ever produced in Korea.

The 45-year-old Shin is now looking to take his success to a global level. And he's found a partner in one of Southern California's major theater companies, the La Jolla Playhouse.

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"Musicals can speak internationally, so long as the production is good," said Shin, speaking through an interpreter, during a recent stop in La Jolla.

Looking dapper in a gray suit with stylish eyewear, Shin appeared every bit the part of the jet-set producer as he sipped coffee in the lobby of a posh seaside hotel.

"Awhile back, people on Broadway didn't pay attention to the Asian market. That's changing now. In five years, the Asian market for musicals will be as big as Broadway."

That may be optimistic thinking given the state of the global economy, but Shin clearly likes to think mega-musical big.

He is staking a lot of money on the science-fiction musical "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," on which he is a lead producer. The show debuted in La Jolla last year, and Shin has plans to take it to Broadway and to Asia.

He is also one of the producers on the Broadway-bound touring revival of "Jekyll & Hyde," starring "American Idol" alumnus Constantine Maroulis, which ended its run at the Pantages Theatre earlier this month.

Shin said the tryout run for "Yoshimi" in La Jolla cost approximately $3.8 million, with major investors including his company in Seoul, OD Musical; the La Jolla Playhouse; and the Dodgers, a New York production company.

The La Jolla Playhouse declined to discuss the show's finances. Michael Rosenberg, the company's managing director, said in a separate interview that he traveled to Seoul in December to meet with Shin and will be back in the spring to discuss other possible collaborations.

"He's a good fit for our company," Rosenberg said. "He cares passionately about musical theater and bringing it [to Korea] where there's a real hunger for it."

Taking "Yoshimi" to New York will cost a little more than $10 million, Shin said. The show employs complex visual effects to evoke a world of robots. To help spread the costs, he is seeking out investors in China, Japan and Korea.

The jukebox musical uses songs by the alternative rock band The Flaming Lips to tell a sci-fi story of a young woman fighting a life-threatening illness.

Shin thinks the musical could appeal to Asian audiences because of its Japanese-American heroine and the use of anime imagery. The earliest he expects to bring "Yoshimi" to Broadway is 2014.

Korea has become an increasingly important market for American musicals in the last 10 years, according to Marc Routh, a New York theater producer and a founder of Broadway Asia, a group that brings stage productions to Asian countries.

"What has propelled the musical there is that Korean music stars [or K-pop singers] have starred in shows in the legitimate theater," Routh said in a phone interview.

Japan has been an important market for musicals for many years while China is emerging as one, he said.

Financial statistics on the Korean theater market are difficult to find because of the industry's relative youth. Shin's company estimates that the size of the musical theater industry has reached approximately $270 million. By comparison, the annual Broadway economy, which includes musicals and plays, had $1.14 billion in ticket sales for the most recent season, according to data from the Broadway League, an industry group.

The Korean musical market is estimated to be growing at about 15% annually, according to Shin's company.

Shin isn't the only Korean producer who has attempted to make money on Broadway. In 2007, PMC Productions, a Korean live-entertainment company, invested in "Legally Blonde," and later took it to Seoul, where it has been a box-office success.

But Shin is virtually unique among Korean theater producers in his desire to become a regular presence on Broadway.

He got his feet wet in the U.S. market with the recent "Dreamgirls" national tour, which came to the Ahmanson Theatre in 2010.

The "Dreamgirls" revival started in Korea, with the sets and costumes created by Shin's company. The production then toured the U.S. with an American cast.

Shin now has several projects in the works on both continents. But he knows from experience that the odds for turning a profit on any given show remain daunting.

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