Most theatergoers can tell their Schwartz from their Sondheim. A bunch of us can also easily differentiate CCR from ELO. But what about BTS? If you’re a fan of this South Korean supergroup and their style of precise choreography, colorful costumes, and impeccable harmonies, Broadway finally has what you’ve been waiting for: “KPOP,” the new musical tribute to this unique Korean musical art form, now at Circle in the Square.
But what if you don’t know BTS from a BLT? Well, you might be better off at home. Or you may just become a convert after watching well over a dozen KPOP-style musical numbers, stunningly costumed by Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi (who may have a Tony Award in their future), energetically choreographed by Jennifer Weber (also represented now on Broadway by “&Juliet”), and exactingly performed by the actual KPOP star Luna, as well as two fictional groups, the boy band F8 and the girl group RTMIS, each consisting of some of the most talented young people currently on the Main Stem.
Admittedly, Helen Park and Max Vernon’s all-original score, performed in a mix of Korean and English, bears very little connection to the show’s flimsy plot (more on this later) and doesn’t make much of an emotional impact. It’s much like cotton candy: wispy, a tad too sweet, decidedly delicious when being ingested, and leaving you hungry two minutes later.
And while Circle in the Square proves to be an excellent space for the show’s mostly concert-like format – indeed, the last 15 minutes of the show is nothing but a concert – “KPOP” would have benefitted by being in a space that allowed the audience to get up, dance or otherwise feel more involved in the onstage goings-on. Indeed, director Teddy Bergman too often places the numbers towards the back of the thrust stage, which seems doubly foolish given the natural intimacy of the theater.
Still, the exuberance of that final section will leave almost everyone to wonder why the show needed a book, and not just a quick set-up. Moreover, if it had to have a book, couldn’t one have been created that was less hackneyed, dull and even preposterous than the one penned by Jason Kim?
Here it goes: the show takes place primarily on the day before a concert in New York City to introduce the artists of RBY, the record label created by the ambitious, often cold Ruby (Jully Lee, doing what she can with a one-note role). But all does not go well during the recording of video to be used during the show, especially when the star attraction MWE (the excellent Luna, who eventually emerges as the love child of Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga) has a mental breakdown, forcing her to hide backstage and then recount her struggles to the top in a series of less-than-fascinating flashbacks.
Meanwhile, Harry (a colorless Aubie Merrylees), the director who Ruby hired to make the video, is more interested in creating a dishy behind-the-scenes documentary, so much so that he secretly films the unhappy MWE, backstage with Ruby and MWE’s seemingly too-good-to-be-true boyfriend Juny (the extremely handsome Jinwoo Jung).
He also tries to capture whatever drama he can from the five ladies of RTMIS, who are too smart – and too nervous -- to fall for his tricks, especially the strong-willed Sonoma (Julia Abueva, emanating both the intensity and vocal prowess of Lea Michele). Meanwhile, F8 makes his job easier, as the group, led by the dedicated Jun Hyuk (an excellent Kevin Woo) openly fights with its newest member, American-born Brad (a charismatic Zachary Noah Piser), who wants to inject more of his personality – and songwriting – into F8. Sadly, all of this is BS (not BTS)– since we all know how it will end. More importantly, we’d all rather be watching and listening to the snap and crackle of the catchy music of “KPOP.”
By Brian Scott Lipton
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