Concerts / Events
[Op-Ed] Idols and Musicals
Over the years, stage musicals have become somewhat of a right-of-passage for idols, and a way to prove to their detractors that they have serious talent and ambitions. 2AM's Changmin is currently appearing in 'La Cage Aux Foiles', B1A4's Sandeul took up a role in 'Brothers were Brave' (previously played by SHINee's Onew), Super Junior's Sungmin and FT Island's Seunghyun are playing the role of 'Daniel' in 'Jack the Ripper', Super Junior's Kangin is gearing up for his appearance in 'Goong' (TVXQ's Yunho and Girls' Generation's Sooyoung have previously appeared in this musical), and B2ST's Hyunseung just wrapped up his time in 'Mozart!' (which previously featured JYJ's Junsu).
While you would think that idols, who are trained for years to be able to deliver quality singing and dancing day in and day out, would have no trouble making the transition from pop star to musical theater star, the issue boils down to more than just talent or dedication. As Super Junior's Kyuhyun (who has appeared in stage musicals 'Three Musketeers' and 'Catch Me If You Can') revealed on his August 8, 2012 broadcast of 'Radio Star', some idols are often paid a large signing bonus for appearing in musicals. His guest, veteran "A-level" stage actor Nam Kyung Joo bluntly stated that it's now the idols who receive the biggest bonuses. While idols do sell more tickets (for example, Sandeul's performances of 'Brothers were Brave' sold out within eleven minutes, and Junsu's performances of 'Elizabeth' sold out in ten), which brings in more money for the theaters and allows them to put on bigger productions, it's got to be frustrating to have some pop star do a musical as a hobby and potentially get paid more than the actors who do musicals for a living.
The obvious fix would be to eliminate the high signing bonuses. If idols got paid what the other actors got paid, the money wouldn't be an issue, right? Maybe, but then we wouldn't have idols in musicals. Companies have to weigh the benefits of putting their idols through the stress of starring in stage musicals on top of their other promotions. Performing in a musical probably won't make the idol much more famous than they already are, and it could eat into time that they would normally spend performing with their group, appearing on variety shows, and doing other fame-building, money-earning work. Really, it's the musical that benefits from the idol's fame, which is why the musical producers will pay so much to get idols on board.
Another option would be to pay the other participants a higher salary, but then the theater would lose all of the extra profit it made from having the idol there in the first place. Also, because they have to triple or quadruple cast the idol's role, there are extra cast members to pay, making less money available to pay the other actors.
That's not to say the idols aren't serious about their turns on the stage. SHINee's Onew, who's done the musicals 'Brothers were Brave' and 'Rock of Ages', has performed the opera standard "Nessun Dorma" in concert, and has expressed interest in an opera career once he's done being an idol. Super Junior's Sungmin, who is currently performing in his third stage musical, has previously stated, "I'm not doing this ['Jack the Ripper'/musical theater performances] as a short stint. Besides activities with Super Junior, all my personal time is spent doing musicals."
Unfortunately, this kind of dedication doesn't necessarily pay off in the actual performances. With already packed schedules, idols can't participate in typical rehearsals; they have to fit rehearsals in around their other activities. Less rehearsal often means a lower quality performance. While this is bad enough for the audience, who has to sit through the performance, this can also reflect badly on other performers. If the star of the show (idol or not) drags the performance down, the show will get bad reviews. When potential employers see that actors performed in shows that got bad reviews, they might not hire those actors, even if the bad reviews were not their fault.
In addition, idols with busy schedules can actually add to the workload for the rest of the cast and crew. Instead of just casting a lead actor/actress and understudy, these roles are often triple, or even (in the case of 'Rock of Ages', 'Mozart!', and 'Jack the Ripper') quadruple cast, meaning that the scenes featuring these actors have to be rehearsed that many more times. Since many shows only have eight to ten weeks of rehearsal time, this has the potential to be very burdensome on the rest of the cast and crew.
The apparent solution would be to hold idols to the same rehearsal standards as other actors- if you can't rehearse, you can't be in the show. If idols had to make their rehearsals and performances their number one priority, they would be less of a burden on the rest of the cast and crew. But, yet again, this would result in companies keeping their idols from doing musicals at all. While some are able to put off promotional activities to focus on their musicals- Onew has previously stated that during 'Brothers were Brave' he had a fixed rehearsal schedule for two weeks, and that he preferred that to the fit-it-in-when-you-can schedule he had while doing 'Rock of Ages'- but most idols don't get to take time off.
T-ara's Hyomin performed in musical 'I Really Really Like You' in late 2009, while filming 'Invincible Youth' and 'My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox', all the while promoting "Bo Peep Bo Peep" and "Like It's the First Time". It's since been revealed that T-ara's first and only vacation since their 2009 debut was in March of this year. Similarly, B1A4 has been promoting almost nonstop since their debut in 2011. As Sandeul's been doing 'Brothers were Brave', he's also done "Baby Goodnight" promotions, the 'Idol Olympics' and the 'SIII Idol Big Match'. He also started filming 'Hello Baby' Season 6, did the Japanese MV for 'Beautiful Target', did some Japanese promotions, and is currently getting ready for the '2012 Asia Song Festival'. The band recently had their first vacation in three years, and they only got that because maknae Gongchan had emergency surgery and couldn't work.
If idols are required to forego other activities for their musicals, their companies won't let them participate in musicals at all. When a musical is counting on an idol's star power to bring in press coverage, an audience, and money from investors, they have to accomodate the stars' inconvenient schedules. Dramas, variety shows, and movies draw enough attention to merit pulling an idol out of regular promotions for a while- notice that f(x)'s Sulli has been missing from many of the band's recent promotional activities to film 'To the Beautiful You', while Luna was never absent from "Hot Summer" promotions last year despite working on the musical 'Coyote Ugly'. Unlike broadcasts and concerts, musicals are seen by a comparitively smaller audience, making them an ineffcient use of the idols' limited time (at least in the eyes of the companies- I'm sure the idols themselves value the time they spend doing musicals). Musical producers have to decide for themselves if the difficult schedules and potentially unskilled performances of idols are a big enough reasons to exclude them entirely when they bring in so much money and attention.
Then there's the level of exhaustion the idols themselves go through. Often, these musical appearances take place while the idols are promoting- B2ST started promotions for 'Beautiful Night' while Hyunseung was still performing in 'Mozart!', 2AM participated in the JYP Nation concert and 'Fan's Day' while Changmin has been appearing in 'La Cage Aux Foiles', and Sungmin is appearing in 'Jack the Ripper' while promoting "Sexy, Free, and Single", "From U" and new track "SPY", doing SM Town concerts, taking part in S.M.ART promotions, and hosting Kiss the Radio. Even though Kangin- who is preparing for 'Goong' while doing the same promotions as Sungmin (minus Kiss the Radio) says he's happy and healthy, many fans have noted that he looks very tired in recent appearances, performances, and selcas.
Neither Sungmin nor Kangin have missed recent promotions, even though Siwon and Donghae had to miss performances due to endorsement schedules and drama filming. Sungmin and Kangin also appeared in the most recent SM Town concert, which Sulli and SHINee's Minho were excused from due to their filming schedules. If idols complain to their companies that they need a lighter workload, the companies are going to cut the least lucrative endeavors from their schedules- meaning that their musicals will be the first things to go.
Aside from the idols themselves and their stage skills, there's the issue of the crowds that they draw to their musicals. Fans who aren't regular theater-goers may not know proper theater etiquette- or, worse yet, may ignore it entirely despite knowing better. Taking photographs of almost any stage show is illegal, and flash photography dangerous, as it can temporarily blind or disorient people on stage. While it's customary to cheer at certain parts of musicals (for example, in many comedic shows it's perfectly acceptable to cheer when a main character makes their entrance), some fan accounts say that people cheer far too loudly and for too long when the idols come on stage, disrupting the performance and sometimes drowning out the dialogue or music surrounding their entrance.
Theaters have to decide whether the potentially problematic crowds are worth the risk. Search on YouTube for any musical a top idol has appeared in and you'll find illegally obtained footage of their performances. Copyright holders could sue the theaters for allowing this to happen, which could cause a lot of problems for the theater. The idols' rowdier fans could upset the more regular theater-goers and discourage them from coming back, which could hurt the theater in the long run.
I'm not saying that idols shouldn't do musicals. If they have the skills necessary and the desire to do so, they should go for it! I mean, as much as I love f(x) (and I really, really do!), Luna's got way more to offer than most of their songs ask of her. A musical like 'Legally Blonde' lets her show off her comedic and dramatic acting, her huge vocal range, and her physical stamina- for example, the song "So Much Better" (link is to original English version, Luna's is not available) ends with Luna's character, Elle, belting a note for seven or eight bars without stopping. "What You Want" (again, link is to the original English version) is almost ten minutes long, featuring belting and difficult dancing, set and costume changes, and acting through an entire range of emotions, all while actually driving the plot forward. Even experienced performers cite this as a difficult role, and I've heard that Luna pulled it off flawlessly. She's never going to get to do something like that in regular f(x) performances.
And, as I mentioned before, musicals are a way for idols to prove their credibility. Many of the members of Super Junior are very talented in their own right, but individual talents get lost in the mass of members- especially during their singles, which don't tend to be very vocally challenging. By doing musicals, members can step out of the boyband stigma and prove that they have legitimate talent to music snobs who think that idols are nothing more than pretty faces. For someone like Sungmin, who rarely gets the spotlight in his group, he has a better shot at getting noticed for his own talent and achievements by starring in a two hour musical than he has while splitting the spotlight with nine or ten other guys in a four-minute long song.
There's also the fact that these idols have to have careers once they're done being idols. Since most idol bands last five years or less, many people aren't even thirty by the time their group breaks up and they have to find new ways to establish themselves. Skills they learn as idols- TV and radio hosting, acting, writing and composing music, music production, talent management, and stage acting, among other things, can help them stay employed as they get older. Being able to establish themselves within these fields while they can still ride on the star power of being idols will help them make that transition when the time comes.
However, none of this negates the problems regarding the unfair pay, limited practice time, and problematic crowds that come with hiring an actor to a stage play. If I were an actor or crew member who had to put up with idols coming in, taking my roles, not showing up for rehearsals, and getting higher pay than me, I'd be pretty upset!
There's no easy answer to these problems. While I wish there was a better solution, I don't think these issues can be solved fairly if idols from groups are going to continue appearing in musicals. It may come down to the fact that life isn't fair, and stage actors may have to put up with the unfairness in order to get the funding and audiences their theaters are looking for.
I think theaters would be wise to reach out to solo artists instead of group members. Given an early enough warning, solo artists like IU and G.NA could arrange their schedules to avoid causing problems with the cast and crew, and they wouldn't have group activities to contend with. Solo artists would still fill seats, but they tend to have fewer screaming fans (IU recently mentioned that she was jealous of how MBLAQ could make fans scream without even trying), so there would probably be fewer issues with overzealous fans in the theater. Unfortunately, this still doesn't solve the unfair wage issue, but it would be a start.
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