N.Korea Gulag Musical Exceeds All Expectations

      March 28, 2006 20:55

      A musical about everyday suffering in North Korea's political concentration camps has turned into a runaway box office success. All seats for the run are completely sold out, and servers for the musical's website are frequently down because of a flood of visitors.

      The producers are scrambling to organize an extension of the run, which will start on April 17, there are even plans for the production to move to the U.S. in May.

      "We're really thankful that the show has been so well received by young people. A few days ago, a group of schoolchildren ran up to me after the show and asked, 'Is life in North Korea really that bad? Isn't there anything that we can do to help?' One kid left a note that read, 'Before I came to the show I filled up on a hamburger and French fries, but after watching the show, I felt so sorry.' The reactions of my younger friends were particularly moving for me," the director says.

      A North Korea defector himself, Jung Sung-san stresses that it is "the people who have come to find out the truth that have made 'Yoduk Story' complete."

      Reaction from abroad has not without admiration dwelled on the political implications of the staging. "'Yoduk Story' is likely to spur debate on North Korean human rights, which have been overlooked in the rush to reconciliation," the BBC said Friday.

      "Almost the entire musical is set at the Yoduk camp -- it is portrayed as a nightmare world of public executions, rape and starvation." However, "the theme may be too dark for some, especially younger South Koreans, many of whom find it hard to conceive of the horrors taking place just across the border."

      Reuters said the production was meant as "an irony-free look at life in a North Korean prison camp that could change the way the North is depicted in South Korean entertainment."

      It echoed other observers from abroad by saying, "As far as musicals go, seeing people break into song on subjects such as starvation and public executions in North Korea may be one of the most unlikely concepts for stage entertainment in several years."

      CNN, UPI and Japan's Sankei and Mainichi Shimbun were also covering the musical and reactions to it. "The musical tells the tragic love story of a female inmate and a prison guard and is set in Yoduk… an actual camp about 70 miles northeast of Pyongyang," CBS reported.

      "Through the life of the female character -- a renowned dancer jailed after her father is accused of spying -- the story also illustrates the stark contrast between the extravagant lives of the North's elite class and the harsh conditions faced by prisoners. The show's theme is especially sensitive here because South Korea's government, seeking to reconcile with its longtime foe, has lately avoided talking about the horrors of the North Korean regime."

      The Mainichi Shimbun said the show "was made by the era in which we live. It was impossible to imagine a musical about North Korean human rights on a South Korean stage even just a few years ago. The musical is a symbol of the times."

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