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Why everyone’s talking about Waiting for Death Note

See veteran actor and audience-pleaser Hong Kwang-ho and Kim Jun-su together on the stage in this popular Korean musical, Waiting for Death Note

Written by
Hye Won Kim

Before the cast was revealed, the Korean musical production of Death Note was only popular among hardcore fans of the original series. But once a host of wellestablished actors was confirmed as the cast, the tables turned and the web has been buzzing ever since.

Originally a popular manga series that was later adapted for animation and film, Death Note has returned as a musical. Under the premise that “one whose name is written in the notebook shall die,” Death Note depicts genius high school student-turned-serial-killer named Light on his journey of vigilante justice, dealing with criminals using the notebook, and detective L, who is after him for all the deaths. The appeal of the original manga series lay in its surrealist motifs and psychological mind games between characters, which, luckily for us, also play out on the stage. Plotline aside, the casting has gotten the most attention so far. Hong Kwang-ho stars as Light, and Death Note is his triumphant return to Korea after an 18-month stint as the first Korean to grace the stage at London’s West End playing Thuy in Miss Saigon. Musical fans will recall Hong’s 4-year tenure in Jekyll & Hyde from 2008 to 2011 here in Seoul. They’re bound to be curious about Hong’s delivery as Light, after his exceptional performance as Dr. Jekyll, a similarly bloodthirsty and unbalanced character. Light’s nemesis, Detective L, will be played by Kim Junsu.

Since Kim’s debut musical Mozart! in 2011, he has consistently sold out shows. It’s not just a dedicated fan-based that sells tickets (Kim has been acting for 5 years, and singing for 12). The avant-garde characters he has reinterpreted have always made headlines, not to mention his acting ability and presence on stage. Having these two actors cast as leads for the first Death Note musical is definitely an added value.

Death Note is a musical licensed from Japan, and will have its first Korean staging at the Seongnam Art Center in June. Composer Frank Wildhorn, famed for Jekyll & Hyde, worked on the Death Note score, while Kuriyama Tamiya, known for his work with the Korean adaptation of A Long Journey into Night and Thrill Me, produced the Japanese original and will be working on the upcoming Korean adaptation as well. The first musical production of Death Note was presented in Japan this past April, but was snubbed for its plain wardrobe and actors who struggled vocally. With its top-notch lineup of musical actors—Hong Gwang-ho, Kim Jun-su, Jung Sun-ah, Park Hae-na, Kang Hong-seok—hopes are high for the Korean reincarnation of this one-of-a-kind production.

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