Review Roundup: KPOP Opens on Broadway!

KPOP is currently running on Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre.

By: Nov. 27, 2022
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Review Roundup: KPOP Opens on Broadway!
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KPOP officially opened on Broadway on Sunday, November 27, at Circle in the Square Theatre. Starring K-pop superstar Luna as MwE, KPOP is directed by Teddy Bergman. The musical features a book by Jason Kim; choreography by Jennifer Weber; music, lyrics, music production and arrangements by Helen Park; and music and lyrics by Max Vernon.

The exhilarating energy of a stadium concert meets the talent and passion of your favorite musical in KPOP! Packed with pulse-pounding new music and electrifying choreography, this original musical explores the relentless discipline, raw talent, and commercial ambition behind the international sensation. As global superstars put everything on the line for a special one-night-only concert, they face struggles both cultural and personal that threaten to dismantle one of the industry's hottest labels. Featuring a cast of K-pop and musical theater stars, it's a multimedia experience unlike anything else on Broadway.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: In its remaking for Broadway I wish "KPOP" had preserved more moments like that: moments that allow you to consider what the excitement of K-pop (for those who feel it) and the expressiveness of American musical theater (likewise) can profitably say to each other. Both have their fans and no doubt their glories, as well as their limitations. But it seems to me that in introducing the two, a good place to have met would have been, well, halfway. "KPOP" still has far to go to get there.

Jackson McHenry, Vulture: There's a lot in the musical KPOP that makes for a successful show, including a winning ensemble, melodies that sneak into your ears and stay there, and rhythm-perfect choreography. But it has a curious inertia. It lacks drama. Not in the sense of tension between its characters-there's plenty of bickering to observe between the characters at the musical's fictional K-pop label as they prepare for a big American showcase-but in the sense of a thrust, an arc, propulsion. It feels as if the show has rushed out into the open water of Broadway and then gotten stuck, like a ship unable to catch the wind.

A.D. Amorosi, Variety: With mega-watt set design, exquisite choreography, a show-within-a-show storyline and a score that sounds more like a Spotify playlist than a conventional musical's tunes, "KPOP" is elegant, energetic, and exceptional. It's a cleverly playful dramedy wrapped around a concert and stuffed inside the enigma of what it means to want fame - badly - then get it, with all its risks and losses spilled onto the stage.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: KPOP doesn't stint on concert-style numbers, and that's where this production shines. Directed by Teddy Bergman, the well-drilled young cast performs Helen Park and Max Vernon's exuberant pastiche songs (several of which are new to this version of the show) with panache, executing Jennifer Weber's rigorous choreography with zippy synchronized swagger and verve. Their costumes, by Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi, are spectacular-wild hybrids of patterns, fabrics, textures and international influences-and the performances are appropriately heightened by the show's lighting (by Jiyoun Chang), sound (by Peter Fitzgerald and Andrew Keister) and multipaneled set (by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn).

Thom Geier, The Wrap: The concert portions of the evening are a cotton-candy delight. Helen Park and Max Vernon have written a handful of pulsing K-pop gems that feel like they'd fit right into a Seoul top 40 playlist, with pulsing beats, solo vocal runs, tight harmonies and occasional interjections of rap. The talented cast deliver the goods, aided by Jennifer Weber's crisp and energetic choreography, Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi's flashy costumes, Jiyoun Chang's dramatic lighting and Gabriel Hainer Evansohn's sleek scenic design.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Two distinct strands emerge during KPOP. One is an amped-up music and dancing extravaganza, which when it really takes light is visually and aurally exciting (the boy band's "Shake It" is a total thriller near the end). Leaning into its concert heart, the show relies on the smooth execution of its songs (Helen Park and Max Vernon), alongside excellent choreography (Jennifer Weber), lighting (Jiyoun Chang), sound design (Peter Fitzgerald and Andrew Keister), projections (Peter Nigrini), and costumes (Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi).

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Theatre Guide: Beyond the echo-chamber narrative, there's much to like. There's an irresistible cast of performers - 18 of them are making Broadway debuts - and attention-getting work by the design team that delivers the goods and then some.

Frank Scheck, NY Stage Review: As effectively staged by Teddy Bergman, KPOP certainly proves impressive on a technical level. The costumes designed by Clint Ramos are consistently dazzling, and the glitzy musical numbers probably wouldn't look out of place in Madison Square Garden. Which begs the question: with so many actual K-pop acts now appearing in the area on a regular basis, why not go for the real thing instead of a highly proficient reproduction?

Amanda Marie Miller, Theatrely: While this version may not be considered "immersive" like its off-Broadway predecessor, the production pulls out every stop to near the experiential nature previous audiences fell in love with. Unassuming sleek scenic design (Gabriel Hainer Evansohn) and active, physical, direction (Teddy Bergman) make smart use of the space, including every inch of aisle, platform, and trap door available. The technology (including lighting by Jiyoun Chang and projections by Peter Nigrini) shines in a way that mirrors the high-tech spectacle of true sold-out stadium K-pop concerts, yet nimbly shifts focus to drive the show forward past its musical numbers.

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: These stories are presented awkwardly, sometimes with confusing flashbacks, and mostly feel like filler between the musical productions. The cast is blameless. They are adept at handling the few moments of humor and the abrupt drama in these dialogue scenes. Luna, who has to carry much of the show, is a pro (a veteran of South Korean productions of such Broadway musicals as "In The Heights" and "Legally Blonde.") But she and the rest of the cast unquestionably shine brightest in the musical numbers - so much brighter that one may question why the creative team didn't just dispense with these largely cliched storylines.

Brian Scott Lipton, Cititour: 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?

Brittani Samuel, Broadway News: There is an ecstatic upbeat tempo to "KPOP." Eighteen of the aforementioned 22-person ensemble makes their Broadway debut here, and even the worst of scripts cannot stop them from having a great time. Too much love and hard work envelops Bergman's stage to not bop your head to the music or mimic dance moves from your seat. While discrepancies riddle the musical's book and erase all potential for a transformative time, I'd instead advise to venture out in pursuit of an entertaining one. You'll find that at "KPOP."

Juan Michael Porter, Did They Like It?: Jennifer Weber's formula-based though clever pop-and-bop choreography―with a stylistic assist from assistant choreographer MJ Choi―is as fun and catchy as anything Britney Spears ever performed. Likewise, Helen Park's and Max Vernon's evocative score is full of bangers that also comment on the action―much like John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret. And Jiyoun Chang's lighting, Mia M. and Neal's hair and wigs, Joe Dulude II and Suki Tsujimoto, and Peter Fitzgerald and Andrew Keister's make-up designs must be applauded for converting the show into an actual pop concert. But hats off to director Teddy Bergman for doing the impossible―modulating each show-stopping element so that Kim's wonderful, multilingual book never loses focus. Though KPOP feels fresh, there is a precedent for what it has accomplished. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II essentially laid out the blueprint when they revolutionized musical theatre in 1927 with Show Boat―another backstage drama and the first Broadway musical to seamlessly integrate dialogue, music, and dance in the service of plot. Almost one century later, it is a pleasure to see this glorious cast of Pan-Asian performers reclaim and elevate the form. If this is the future of Broadway, please consider me a rabid and reinvigorated stan.

Howard Miller, Talkin' Broadway: For this reason-and I can't believe I am writing this-I would have preferred a K-pop revue without the strained narratives. In the concert numbers, the performers are electrifying, and they elicit earned shrieks, squeals, and thunderous applause from the notably young and Asian audience members. Helen Park's and Max Vernon's songs are silly confections that thankfully are accompanied by loud electronic music, so you don't end up with an ear worm consisting of a lyric like, "This is my Korea/ This is my story-a/ A new category-a/ To make you dance and clap your hands." Wearing Clint Ramos and Sophia Choi's appropriately gaudy, garish, and fabulous costumes, which include glittering bodysuits, playful dominatrix attire, faux military uniforms, MwE, RTMIS, and F8 put on a sensational show, particularly in the 15-minute finale. Jennifer Weber's thrilling choreography incorporates all the shakes, pops and thrusts one associates with the genre. KPOP will not go down in the Broadway annals as a groundbreaking, or even a very good, musical. But when the company sings the final song, "Blast Off," you may realize that you're having too much fun to notice-or care.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

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