Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rocky Horror

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a special place in my heart.  I think it's subtly sophisticated (yes, I'm probably overthinking it) and tremendously entertaining.  I like most of the songs and sometimes I listen to the soundtrack and sing along.  With gusto.

Shortly before leaving for Korea, I learned the musical would be performed in Seoul.  I was delighted but somewhat shocked.  Korea seems an odd venue.  I'm given to understand that Korean culture typically frowns on frank sexuality, and Rocky Horror is quite frankly sexual.  In 1975 it was too much for mainstream American audiences and it still has limited appeal in the States.

Even if open sexuality in general doesn't daunt the Koreans, there's the show's Q-factor.  Musicals are pretty queer to begin with, but Rocky Horror is exceptionally so.  We're not just talking about mincing or double entendres here:  Rocky Horror is straight-up gay and that won't be lost in translation.

I went last night.  The cast was anglophone and the show was performed in English, excepting the criminologist, who was played by a Korean celebrity speaking Korean for the benefit of the audience.  Monitors provided English translations of the criminologist's Korean and Korean translations of the performers' English.

The show had problems.  The biggest two were sound design (too loud) and casting.  Frank was disastrously miscast.  The actor playing him is steroid huge.  Frank is supposed to be obsessed with muscular men, in awe of their bulging physiques.  He defines masculinity in terms of power, dominance and forcefulness, qualities radiated by an aggressive bodybuilder type.  This is why, after reckless hedonism has become his way of life, he traduces laws of nature and morality simultaneously in creating Rocky.  When Frank himself is built like a brick shithouse his motivation disappears.

Also, the guy is a bad singer.  I might even call him a terrible singer.  He butchered Frank's solos, my favorite songs in the show.  He's also a bad actor in that he's a totally unconvincing fag.  He was wearing a corset, fishnets and high heels, sure, and he was made up like a proper queen, but he lacks the quintessence.  It was like watching a jock in drag thinking "I'm wearing women's underwear.  I'm so gay!"  Honey, it needs some sass.

I was hoping to get some insight into Korean culture by watching a Korean audience drink in Rocky Horror.  Sadly, all I can say is that they seemed to enjoy it.  I wasn't able to chat anyone up or do any informal polling to uncover how well and why they liked it, whether they understood the plot and characters, or what themes they perceived.

What I do know is that they found Frank very sexy.  There's an image in Korean culture of Westerners as libidinous beings who are naturally more sexual than Koreans.  This, combined with exoticism and the forbidden fruit factor, results in Koreans seeing auras of virility and sex appeal around foreigners we would consider ordinary.

Also, I think race was part of the appeal.  The actor playing Frank is a Spaniard of Moorish descent, i.e. a Hispanic North African type.  What matters is that he isn't white.  Koreans, like Asians in general, are prejudiced against blacks.  If they're anything like the Chinese, they take a Victorian view and see blacks as simple, passionate creatures, which would add to the actor's appeal as a sex object by doubling or perhaps squaring the forbidden fruit factor.

Despite the problems, I still had a good time and learned a lot about the limitations of stage productions.

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