I am not sure I ever thought I'd be sitting at Lincoln Center seeing a "Korean, Broadway-style musical." I knew such a thing existed, but I wouldn't have thought I'd be seeing it in New York. Yet there I was on opening night, August 23, watching Hero: The Musical at the David H. Koch Theater with a host of Korean dignitaries. As I sat watching the tuner, I was struck most not by the oddness of the occasion, but rather how rich the production looked.
Hero: The Musical, which premiered in Seoul in 2009 and feels like a weird hybrid of West Side Story and Les Miserables, cost $2.5 million to produce in the Big Apple. It is only running from August 23 through September 3, so it doesn't seem like it will make that back. But sometimes it is not about a solitary mounting recouping.
"If people like it here, it will help it in Los Angeles and elsewhere," said general manager Steven M. Levy. "It will help raise its profile."
This is the same theory that often people assert when producing off-Broadway musicals. Because of high running costs, off-Broadway musicals rarely recoup, but the off-Broadway run helps shows tremendously in terms of marketability.
ACOM International, producer of Hero, knows something about this model, having produced another Korean hit musical, The Last Empress, at Lincoln Center in 1997 and 1998. The show was so popular that, during the 1998 run, the heavy demand for tickets caused Lincoln Center's box office computers to crash. (Of course, the world has made technological advancements since then.) That musical went on to play Los Angeles, Toronto and London's West End.
A casual reader might wonder why either show wouldn't be set up at a Broadway house for a run that could be more permanent if the demand was there. It does have a major Broadway press representative, Richard Kornberg (Rent, Hairspray), and the general management team of Levy and Leonard Soloway is a Great White Way staple. Yet Hero is not at a Broadway venue. The reason? I'd assume it is cost. The same show that cost $2.5 million to mount at the David H. Koch Theater might cost four times that much at the Shubert Theater. Opera houses, such as the Koch, are used to moving things in and out quickly -- it only took around a week to load in the Hero set (shipped over from Korea), whereas load in may have taken four weeks or more at a traditional Broadway house. Then there are the increased running costs on Broadway, which are primarily a result of the way the different unions function. Overall, it is simply easier, and more cost effective, to land at an opera or ballet house. The downside is you can't stay at one, but I suspect the Hero people don't think the audience appeal would be high enough to extend for that long.
So Hero is at the David H. Koch Theater, which won the cost-benefit analysis. If you want to see this Korean musical with supertitles and beautiful stage snap shots, you have until the end of the week.