Shim Chang-min stars in musical for 1st time since his debut in 2003

2024.05.24 18:31
By Baek Seung-chan

Changmin Shim plays Benjamin in the musical Benjamin Button. He sometimes manipulates the puppetized Benjamin to perform alongside him. Courtesy of EMK Musical Company

Changmin Shim plays Benjamin in the musical Benjamin Button. He sometimes manipulates the puppetized Benjamin to perform alongside him. Courtesy of EMK Musical Company

Before the lights went down, actors took their places on stage one by one. The audience stirred slightly at the sight of the actor at the front. Some of them hurriedly took out their opera glasses.

The original musical "Benjamin Button" will premiere at the Sejong Center in Seoul until June 30. It is based on a short story by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and is also famous for the film starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The original story is a fantasy about Benjamin Button, who was born in 1860 with the appearance of a 70-year-old man and gradually becomes younger and younger until he dies as a baby in 1927. It was a satire about an individual at odds with society because of his appearance. The musical, like the film, adds melodramatic elements. By moving the setting to the early to mid-20th century, it borrows some of the settings and sensibilities of Fitzgerald's most famous work, “The Great Gatsby.”

The keyword of the work is "Sweet Spot." This refers to the optimal point of hitting the ball in sports using a racket or bat. In the work, it is used to mean something like "the best time of your life.” Blue, a 7-year-old girl who sings, meets Benjamin, who is also 7 years old but looks old. They are attracted to each other, but their ages and circumstances lead to a mismatched life. Benjamin, who is getting younger, and Blue, who is getting older, meet in their 30s and have a brief moment of happiness, which they consider the sweet spot of their life. However, the moment is too short and the trajectory of their lives goes against each other again. "Most of the time waiting for the sweet spot and most of the time after the sweet spot has passed, are all precious," said Cho Kwang-hwa, who wrote and directed the play.

The lyrical and calm atmosphere continues throughout the musical. Mama, the bar owner, is in charge of antics and Blue's manager Jerry appears as a villain, but it is not enough to change the overall atmosphere. It may not be suitable for audiences who like flashy show musicals. The first half of the play, before Benjamin and Blue's relationship really takes off, feels like it is dragging.

The most notable element in “Benjamin Button” is Shim Chang-min, who was cast as Benjamin alongside Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sung-sik. Fans are more familiar with the actor as Max Changmin, his stage name as a member of the boygroup TVXQ. For Shim, "Benjamin Button" marks his musical debut 21 years after his debut as a singer. "It's harder and more painful than I thought because it's different in many ways from what I've been doing so far," he said at a press event, adding, "I'm learning a lot while performing. An official of "Benjamin Burton" said, "Shim has been offered to appear in musicals in the past, but he refused because there were scheduling conflicts, and he was cast in "Benjamin Burton" after auditioning because the schedule fit."

To the extent that it is unusual that Shim has not appeared in a musical so far, a long history has already been built up for idol stars to appear in musicals. Kim Jun-su, who debuted with Shim and later moved to boy group JYJ, has been performing in musicals since 2010 and has already established himself as a solid top star in the musical industry. Ok Joo-hyun has become an actor with strong ticket power, showing her strength in large-scale musicals with her unique explosive voice and expressive power. Singers Kyu-hyun, Kim Sung-kyu, and Jo Kwon have also established themselves as musical actors. Recently, Oh My Girl's Hyo-jung made her musical debut in the original musical "A Thousand Blue," which will be performed until May 26.

The biggest reason why musical production companies cast idol members is their fandom. In the case of "Benjamin Button," Shim’s ticket sales have overwhelmed the other actors. A large number of Chinese and Japanese audiences were seated to watch Shim's performance on the 22nd. The M Theater at the Sejong Center, where the performance was held, is a 600-seat medium theater including the first and second floors. Sitting on the first floor, audiences were able to see Shim closer than at any other concert. For fans, it is a chance to see the star singing and acting up close.

Nowadays, idols learn to sing, dance, and act during their training period. Shim also led the play stably even though it was his musical debut.

Although he was lacking in terms of high-pitched vocals and explosive emotions compared to professional musical actors, including Park Eun-mi (Blue), Kim Ji-sun (Mama), and Min Jae-wan (Jerry), his stage presence was not inferior. In the early part and the latter part, he had to play while controlling Benjamin, who was expressed as a puffet, but it was natural without awkwardness. The 21-year-old star also had the ability to control the stage to elicit the audience's response. "In the past, idols often appeared in popular musicals, but recently, they are boldly challenging new creative musicals,” said an official from the Seoul Arts Center, which produced “A Thousand Blue.”

※This article has undergone review by a professional translator after being translated by an AI translation tool.


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