After 3 years of fangirling, I finally found myself in the same room as Joo Won.
Just when it looked like I would miss that once in a lifetime chance to watch Joo Won live, a window of opportunity came in a business trip. The second they said the meeting will be held in Seoul, I shouted “Yes!” Of course, I have to fulfill my official obligations but all I needed was time to catch Joo Won’s GHOST performance. Like a seasoned gambler, I staked my chances on 3 performances covering the entire week I was there and succeeded in catching 2 full shows and 2nd half of one.
From the opening of my account, you should know this will be nothing like the superb ones from farbarri and moonhearts with all their details and analysis. It will be random and with little insights, maybe it has got to do with my state of mind when I was there. I imploded into a gazillion pieces staring at Joo Won in person.
Musicals and I
I must forewarn that all my opinions are that of someone who is “uncultured” in the ways of theatre and not musically trained in anyway. So you may ask, wherein lies the value of my opinions? I think my views may resonate with those who are less artistically inclined.
Other than GHOST, I watched a grand total of 2 musicals. I had thought they were enough to last a lifetime but of course that was before I discovered the extremes of fangirling. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, they definitely lived up to their fame. They are such classics that I could never imagine watching them in another form. GHOST is one story which I still think worked better in movie version. Maybe Joo Won played Sam Wheat too well, so much that I wish I could have a camera zooming in onto his face to capture all his emotions.
Despite all that I have said, there is something magical about watching a performance live. This could be the reason why I always enjoyed live performances ranging from those musicals mentioned above to the likes of Nanta and Cirque du Soleil. And as I learned from Joo Won, it is also another level of experience and gratification a theatre actor will receive which is unlike that he can obtain from drama or movie.
GHOST the Musical
I think you have read enough of how awesome the set is and I can testify that it certainly lives up to the raves. It is such an integral part of the show and definitely a winner. The technology, effects and illusions were spectacular. Unlike others who have figured out the tricks, I must say I stayed clueless. My eyes were fixated on too many parts of Joo Won. I could do with more sets of eyes so I really have none to spare.
The music and songs are contemporary. Most were good and relatively easy on the ears with songs like “Here Right Now” and “Three Little Words” earning their place as my favorites. In my opinion, Joo Won chose the “right” musical on the basis of the music genre. More on that coming up. I did not catch the other 2 Sam’s performance but I did watch a clip of Kim Woo Hyung and Kim Jun Hyun. Kim Woo Hyung’s vocals are great and did not sound like he would go off pitch. However, I thought his singing style is more suited to traditional theatre scores. I liked Kim Jun Hyun’s singing least but it could be due to the poor quality of the video clip so I won’t comment more.
My first show starred Jiyeon as Molly and the other 2 shows featured Ivy. Up to now, I cannot fathom why I cried in the first show and not the other 2. Perhaps, it is because I was watching it for the first time or was it the chemistry between Joo Won and Jiyeon? In terms of acting, Ivy is actually technically superior to Jiyeon and man, this woman has powerful pipes. She was easily the best singer, not just among the actress but also actors. If any of the 3 Sams could sing like her, it would be ideal because GHOST songs are contemporary and yet some of them require very good and powerful vocals. There were times when Ivy’s singing were a little too high and sharp for my liking but overall, she delivered.
Ivy was more expressive in her acting and from a theatre point of view, it was easy to pick up her emotions. I saw her eyes shimmering wet and tears rolling down her face in each performance. Yet, Jiyeon moved me more. Jiyeon is a good singer and her style matches well with Joo Won’s. Her petite frame and air of vulnerability lends more sympathy to the character. I also wonder if it is because Ivy was so perfect in her songs delivery that it was difficult to believe her character Molly was in grief and pain. I guess that is the inherent “weakness” of musical theatre. Who in real life sings about everything and belts out each song with panache even in grief? Overall, Jiyeon’s performance came across as more natural and her voice is the type which I could listen to the whole day.
Choi Jung Won as Oda Mae is the star of the show. I had high expectations after reading fan accounts here and I know she is a well-known musical actress and won awards. I caught her in the 1st and 3rd shows and I must say she met and exceeded my expectations. Her singing is flawless and powerful but to focus on her voice alone is missing the big picture. Choi Jung Won has this incredible charisma and I can see why she is so loved by audience and fans. The best part about it all is that she was obviously enjoying herself. She adlibs like crazy, she’s not afraid to laugh at herself even when it’s not called for in script and she was having fun. It was almost interactive with the audience who responded to all her antics with oohs and laughter. It really struck me that a veteran who must have been standing on stage for years, endeavors to give her all and something different to the audience in each performance. This is characteristic of someone who can be truly called a professional and loves her job. I hope Joo Won takes a leaf from her book. He is obviously enjoying what he is doing right now but I hope he can always be this way 10, 20 years down the road.
The rest of the cast were great and Joo Won’s friend Lee Chang Hee who plays Carl is a good singer and actor but I won’t dwell into their performances here.
Sam Wheat/Joo Won
Confession time – I have no doubts Joo Won is the greatest actor of his generation but I am less certain of his standing in the musical theatre arena. Of course, he has not been in musicals for the past 4 years but could that alone be the reason? Please tell me if I am wrong.
Do not be mistaken, I love his voice and I think he sings very well and has powerful vocals but does he have the voice to suit all genres of theatre musical? My knowledge is admittedly limited/ Still, when I came across this musical actor Hong Kwang Ho and I immediately recognized his as the traditional musical theatre voice, if I can describe it this way. However, if both were to produce albums which I can put on replay each day, Joo Won’s would be the one I will choose. This is why I said earlier that Joo Won chose the right musical to be in. GHOST songs are contemporary and would actually sound awkward if sung in the traditional operatic style.
Despite this not so positive introduction, I must say Joo Won exceeded my expectations where overall singing is concerned. He has great ability to stay on pitch and he can certainly deliver both loud and high notes. There was only part which his voice cracked but that was a very tricky one so I don’t blame him. In my first show, he even managed to pull that bit perfectly. So though I cannot put him on par with the top musical actors in terms of singing, I dare say Joo Won is awesome in his own right.
Now, let me say it here, Joo Won is superb as Sam Wheat. I think he delivered more than 100% what is required for the role. Somehow I feel that for theatre, you need to express your emotions more extravagantly and while that helps the audience, it also makes theatre acting more formulaic and unnatural. I see it a lot in the other Sam performances and even Ivy’s. Joo Won’s acting as Sam Wheat struck the sweet spot. He conveyed his emotions well to the audience from the stage and yet he was totally natural. If we could get a camera zoomed into his face, all the better because Joo Won really never lets up. In his typical fashion, even if the scene is not focused on him, he is “in it” every second. One good example is the scene where Sam’s ghost enters the killer’s apartment together with Carl and finds out the latter’s betrayal and hand in his death. Shock, disbelief, grief and anger were all written over Sam/Joo Won’s face.
I had the benefit of sitting in the 4th row for 2 shows and 8th for one so I was in a good position to catch all these details. Even for those who are seated far back, you can still get Sam’s emotions from Joo Won’s body language and singing. Joo Won is indeed an actor who acts with his entire body, I cannot think of a better way to describe it. I was astonished to how physical this role is. Joo Won threw himself onto the floor countless times, did an amazing forward roll and ran like crazy from one side of the stage to the other. In Life Log 4, you would know that he has numerous wounds on his hands and legs from GHOST performances and now I can totally understand why. My poor baby but he probably wears them like badges of honor as any young man would.
I think the physical aspects of Sam cannot be trivialized. From the character description, my impression of Sam Wheat is a young 20-something man who was a high achiever, he was also passionate and macho. Joo Won conveys all these very well. In his business suit, the way he talks and struts speaks of his confidence. Although Joo Won was the least muscular of the 3, he was the best in conveying the physical attributes and sexiness of Sam Wheat. Why? Because sexiness is not in how big the muscles are but rather in how a man walks, runs and moves in general.
After reading one fan’s comment that Joo Won has yet to come out of his Park Si On’s character, I would say it is absolutely untrue. I see no trace of Park Si On in Sam Wheat. Sam Wheat stands straight and in the first scene, he was brazen, suave and sexy. A world of difference from Park Si On. Even when he was slouching in despondence or with his shoulders hunched, the posture is totally different from Park Si On’s.
Sam Wheat goes through a whole gamut of emotions, a lot more than the other characters. Joo Won does justice to this with his usual panache of delivering emotions spot on. The cheeky, smart-alecky and smooth operator that was Sam quickly got displaced after his death by a range of extreme to more nuanced emotions. Unbelief, terror, frustration, anger, fear, sadness, despair, helplessness and regret were all captured beautifully by Joo Won.
The result for you the audience is that you are totally sold by Sam’s love and his overriding desire to protect the love of his life, Molly. Joo Won successfully interpreted the character and Bruce Joel Rubin was right when he picked Joo Won as the best Sam Wheat.
Trivia & Delectable
No matter how much mental preparation I run in my head, I gasped(silently) when I first laid my eyes on Joo Won. He was HUGE. In the opening scene, Sam and Molly move to their new apartment which was still under renovation. Joo Won was wearing a white tank and pair of overalls. I almost swooned from his enormity of his size. I do not know how he looks like off stage but up there, he looked big. He was far from scrawny and his shoulders, arms and chest were very good in size and proportion. I said many times that though our man is not as well built with bulging muscles, he has great genes to thank for. His frame is awesome and I can tell that he is a mesomorph. A mesomorph is a body type which traits are strong, athletic, hard body(*gasp*) and gains muscles easily. By his own admission, he doesn’t work out. And yet by just using his barbells in the dressing room prior to performance, he managed to get some nice bulges in his biceps. His deltoids are so promising, if he works them out, may god have mercy on us all.
There was this part when Molly jumped onto Sam and wrapped her legs round his waist whilst he was standing. Then Sam locked his lips with Molly and kissed her deeply. Joo Won did it so sexily that I think I was gripping my bag tightly so that I wouldn’t grab my neighbor instead.
In the infamous sofa scene, I was willing my eyes to open as wide as I could as if by doing so, I could take in more of the scene. One thing, I totally failed to see was coolreborn’s beloved “raisins”. Either she has binoculars or light does not travel in a straight line in cooreborn’s universe. How she got a glimpse of them is beyond me. Maybe my angle is wrong so I didn’t get the abs either. What I saw clearly was his broad and awesome back. Again, he wasn’t skinny and though not overly muscular, it was sinewy and huge. It looked really good. I like men with broad backs which you can explore endlessly with your hands.
Throughout the show, there were several instances when Sam’s back was facing the audience. All I can say is that Joo Won’s legendary butt certainly lives up to its fame. I was not focusing on it but it was just so….there. And our man has got deliciously long limbs. Recently, he remarked in an interview that he has “thick thighs” but I would rather describe it as nicely proportioned, strong and powerful. Of course, I have not felt them but they certainly looked that way. There was this scene of Sam and Carl in business pants. Although Carl played by Lee Chang Hee is better built than Joo Won, his legs looked obviously skinner. I can see the difference from the way they wear their pants.
Many times when Sam/Joo Won tumbled on the floor, he would end up just at the edge of the stage and that’s where we get to see Joo Won really up close. In scenes, when he was crouching and you can see his exposed collarbone and chest through the neck opening, I wished I was Elastigirl from the Incredibles and have the ability to stretch my hand forth, LOL. At times, he was just squirming in pain on the floor and I really wanted to hurl myself on stage and sooth his pain. Never has the phrase “So near yet so far” ring loudly in my head.
I did not make a sound throughout the entire show or at least that’s what I think. Because I could hear my neighbors gasping audibly. In my first show, I was seated between two women who came with their husbands or boyfriend. It was quite funny because they telling their men about Joo Won. Though I cannot understand Korean but I kept hearing his name. Throughout it all, I didn’t hear a sound from the guys except some slight nodding when I tried to look from the corner of my eyes. Then during the sofa scene, the lady on my right lean as far forward as she could! And I could hear both ladies gasping audibly at the scene. The whole thing was so short and before you know it, the screen came down and the lights go dim. I found myself willing the screen to be stuck somewhat so that I could continue to watch. I did not even know I was holding my breath until I let it out after the scene was over.
Because of my work commitment, I could not make it to D-cube to catch Joo Won’s arrival. And on those 3 days of performance, Joo Won did not come down the escalator once. Each time, Manager-nim would come down with a smile on his face, wearing an apologetic look as he make the announcement .The fans would then sighed loudly and expressed their disappointment. Seeing Manager-nim up close and personal, I can see why many fans especially farbarri is so taken by this guy. He looked very gentle, kind and unassuming, I am so thankful that Joo Won has him by his side.
It was only when I saw the photos that I found out that he had visitors on those days. No wonder he did not come down the escalator. As the end of GHOST’s run draws close, Joo Won must be more inclined to spend time with his co-stars and crew. I am more than lucky and satisfied that I got to watch him live, not once but thrice