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Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh In On KPOP at Ars Nova



Ars Nova, in association with Ma-Yi Theater and Woodshed Collective, presents the world premiere of KPOP, a high-octane immersive event that gives you a backstage pass to a K-pop music factory.

KPOP is here and America will never be the same. Claim your exclusive, all-access pass and immerse yourself in the Korean Pop music factory where stars are made... or broken.

KPOP was conceived by Woodshed Collective and Jason Kim (The Model American, HBO's "Girls") and features a book by Kim, music & lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon (The View UpStairs), an immersive design by Woodshed Collective, choreography by Bessie-nominee Jennifer Weber (The Hip Hop Nutcracker, TruTV's "Face Off") and is directed by Teddy Bergman (Empire Travel Agency).

The predominantly Asian and Asian American cast of 18 includes Julia Abueva, Cathy Ang, Katie Lee Hill (Nerds), Joomin Hwang, Jinwoo Jung, Jiho Kang, Deborah Kim, Susannah Kim, Ashley Park (Sunday in the Park with George, The King and I), Sun Hye Park, James Saito, James Seol (A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, Small Mouth Sounds), David Shih, Jason Tam (If/Then, Lysistrata Jones), John Yi and Ebony Williams (Beyoncé's Formation World Tour). Final two cast members will be announced at a later date.

The creative team includes Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (Production Design), Tricia Barsamian (Costume Design), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (Lighting Design), Will Pickens (Sound Design), Phillip Gulley (Projection and Video Design) and LIzzy Lee (Production Stage Manager).

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: The show is best when parody blurs into the already surreal dimensions of what's being parodied. That's true of the eye-popping visuals throughout (right down to the ads on the walls). And Ms. Parks and Mr. Vernon's pastiche fusion musical numbers, choreographed with slashing wit by Jennifer Weber, are as synthetically sweet and perversely addictive as the real thing. (Think of them as ear Skittles.)

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: The delightful new musical KPOP knows what kind of immersive theater it wants to be: The script says it aims to plunge us into the world of contemporary Korean music "like a bubble bath," and that's exactly what it does. It all pours out in the opening number, when the audience gathers for a supposed music-factory tour, and a dozen smiley young performers-stars of the fictional label JTM Entertainment-appear around us, dressed in flashy costumes as they deliver a pitch to cross over into the elusive U.S. market. ("Look at us," they sing. "Look at us right now.") For the next two and a half hours, as we move in groups through different areas of the shiny new A.R.T./New York Theatres complex, tiny bubbles of pleasure keep floating up and bursting all around us. Pop! Pop! Pop! We're sold.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: The odds are that unless you're Asian, or possibly a teenager, you haven't given much thought to Korean pop music. But the genre widely known as K-pop is gaining a growing following both in the U.S. and around the world. It's now the subject of an ambitious new immersive, interactive musical that is often as physically exhausting as it is wildly entertaining. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes if you attend, because KPOP, which involves lots of standing and walking up and down stairs, demands as much from its audience as the Korean pop music industry apparently demands from its young artists.

Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: KPOP, the wildly (and loudly) entertaining immersive theater piece offering the audience a tour of a Korean pop music factory, begins and ends with 15-minute concerts by the Korean boy group F8 and girl group Special K, dressed in Olympic-style jumpsuits or sexy black leather outfits, as well as the solo artist MwE, clad in sultry gowns. What may be most impressive about their energetic performances, complete with synchronized gyrations beneath a disco ball or behind dramatically billowing stage smoke, is that everything about them - including all 23 songs they sing - was created, à la The Monkees, just for this show.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Since the 2012 video "Gangnam Style" had everyone from Barack Obama on down trying to emulate those wacky dance moves, Korean pop music has been a thing.Now we get an intriguing glimpse of how it's created, with Ars Nova's "KPOP," an immersive musical by Jason Kim that takes us behind the scenes of one fictional label's music factory. The audience follows members of the cast through a maze of dance and recording studios, practice rooms, even the on-site plastic surgeon's office as these kids with potential are molded into top-tier talent.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: I think so. I mean, by the time the finale of KPOP comes around, if you're not bopping along to the splashy, buoyant pop tunes by Helen Park and Max Vernon, well ... maybe you don't like puppies or rainbows either. KPOP's exuberant young ensemble - 12 fierce triple threats who portray the stars of JTM, the label run by President Moon and his wife Ruby (Vanessa Kai), herself a former pop star - make this show difficult to resist.

Max McGuinness, Financial Times: "This is where the sausage is made," as Ebony Williams's Nurse Ratched-like dance teacher puts it. And there lies the problem. For once we learn where the music comes from, the numbers themselves (by Helen Park and Max Vernon) tend to sound mechanical. Dramatic tension also dissipates as the secrets of the miserable reality within the gilded cage are revealed too quickly. And, under Teddy Bergman's direction, attempts at getting the audience involved never quite come off. Yet KPOP does occasionally burst into life over the course of two and a half hours. A number about being "a wind-up doll" perfectly sums up the dubious thrills of made-to-order celebrity. And the tyrannised pop idols all go out with a bang worthy of Dr Strangelove, singing "blast off" as V-2 rockets soar away on screens behind. Such timely gallows humour ought to be a sure-fire hit.

David Cote, What Should We Do: Two hours of showbiz angst and crossover dreams all lead to a sensational payoff. We crowd into the large, open, club-like space where the show begins; light units swivel and spew columns of light as the DJ spins a sick beat, and we cheer the talent strutting along the runway like rabid fans. Never heard of these acts? It doesn't matter: Just try and stop from shaking your booty during the set by adorable diva MwE (Ashley Park) or the Whitman's Sampler of cute boys that make up F8, and the world-dominating, ultra-fierce Special K. The latter, an ass-kicking all-girl band, will break your heart and then Nae Nae all over the shards. Audiences should be forgiven for demanding CDs as they exit through the lobby.

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