Thanks to Punchdrunk, the British Theatre Company who brought us Sleep No More, immersive theater has sprouted faster than Harvey Weinstein’s sexual allegations (too soon?) The long-running show continues to play to sold-out houses at the McKittrick Hotel and paved the way for Fuerza Bruta, Here Lies Love, Seeing You, Natasha Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, and other interactive works.
The latest addition to the roster is KPOP, an ambitious creation commissioned by Ars Nova and co-developed by Ma-Yi Theater Company and Woodshed Collective. Set in multiple rooms throughout the minimalistic, but impressive A.R.T./New York Theater Center, it gives audience members an inside look at the supervision and manipulation of Korean Pop artists. As patrons, we also become the “focus group” who help determine how K-pop performers can cross over into the pop music world of the United States.
After a few minutes of energetic selections, we are shuttled throughout the complex to witness how stars are made, tried, and broken by the pressures of fame and fortune.
There is much satire in Jason Kim’s book. In Seoul, an already youthful Tiny D (Katie Lee Hill) is being pressured by plastic surgeon Dr. Park (David Shih) to go under the knife. “I have a laser that can make you look like a baby,” he says. “Do I want to look like a baby?,” she replies.
Kim paints a funny, but unfortunate view of what we both perceive and value in human authenticity. Age, looks, and cultural traditions are explored and challenged in a way that evokes Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. Has the west influenced the east or vice versa? What does it mean to be truly American or truly Korean?
Near the top of the show, we are led into a dance studio to witness a rehearsal between hard-ass Jenn (Ebony Williams) and her girl group, Special K. “Do ya’ll understand why you’re here?,” Jenn barks. “This is where the sausages are made. When they leave, they should want the sausages. Right now, no one wants the sausages.”
Ironically, there is not enough sausage to be found during the 2 ½ hour production. The talented Max Vernon provides music and lyrics to the proceedings, along with Helen Park. Vernon is the musical wunderkind behind this year’s The View Upstairs. He’s got an immense gift for composition. One just wishes that it were a bit more on display in the music factory. Still, the songs that are included here are nothing short of fun, especially with the addition of Jennifer Weber’s clever choreography.
KPOP had bloggers and critics buzzing when it was first announced and– for the most part– has sold out many of its shows through Oct. 21st. It’s easy to understand why. Audiences have not yet grown tired of an immersive experience. When surrounded by a beautifully talented cast who entertain you, how can you refuse?
KPOP runs through Oct. 21st at A.R.T./NY Theater (502 West 53rd between 9th and 10th). For tickets and information, click here.