KPOP, which broke ground on Broadway for its casting and representation of Korean culture, is closing just a few weeks after opening at the Circle in the Square.
The musical, which originally premiered off-Broadway in 2017, will end its run on Dec. 11, the producers announced Tuesday. Written by Jason Kim and directed by Teddy Bergman with music and lyrics by Helen Park and Max Vernon and choreography by Jennifer Weber, KPOP‘s closure follows 44 previews and 17 regular performances.
The final performance will feature a panel discussion celebrating and reflecting on AAPI representation on Broadway. Those panelists include David Henry Hwang, the first Asian American playwright to win a Tony; KPOP‘s Park the first Asian female composer in Broadway history; Korean playwright Hansol Jung; and actor Pun Bandhu. In support of that final performance, 200 complimentary tickets are being offered to AAPI community members and youth.
The show, which announced last week that a Broadway cast recording would release on Feb. 24, stars Luna, Julia Abueva, BoHyung, Major Curda, Jinwoo Jung, Jiho Kang, Amy Keum, James Kho, Marina Kondo, Eddy Lee, Joshua Lee, Jully Lee, Lina Rose Lee, Timothy H. Lee, Abraham Lim, Min, Kate Mina Lin, Aubie Merrylees, Patrick Park, Zachary Noah Piser, Kevin Woo and John Yi.
The story presents a behind-the-scenes look at various K-pop groups and a massive solo star who have come together to film for a special one-night-only concert. In the process, they find themselves unpacking both cultural and personal issues that threaten to dismantle one of the industry’s hottest labels and their sense of self as artists.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in early November, producer Joey Parnes acknowledged that the show had struggled to attract early audiences, saying that it has been challenging for producers to attract theatergoers to new or unknown work when some may still be nervous to return. “It’s not surprising that if they’re having to be discerning, they’re going to choose something that is more certain,” Parnes said.
Since it began previews in October, the new musical has often made less than $200,000 a week, ranking among the lowest-grossing in weekly industry tallies. Capacity has remained fairly healthy but alongside a low average weekly ticket price. The quick closing means KPOP will not be able to benefit from the traditional boost in ticket sales that comes around the holidays and for which many shows hold out for.
Beyond its box office, the musical’s presence on Broadway was historically significant, marking firsts in terms of its subject, its cast and creative team. As the first musical ever about Korean culture on Broadway, KPOP featured Korean representation in the creative team and onstage, including 18 Broadway debuts and only one non-Asian actor in the principal cast. It also featured lyrics for the songs and lines in Korean, with Park not only making history as a first for Asian women but joining just a handful of Asian composers to work on any Broadway show.
Earlier this week, producers Parnes and fellow producer Tim Forbes addressed these milestones while responding to a New York Times review of the show which both called an “insensitive and frankly offensive” take on the musical. In a lengthy Instagram statement addressing the critic Jesse Greene, along with the paper’s theater editor Nicole Herrington and chairman Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the duo addressed a “cultural insensitivity, underlying ignorance of and distaste for K-pop” present in the review, which they cited with a number of examples as statements that come “across as casual racism.”
They wrote that from the headline to the review itself, specific word choices about the script, choreography, costuming, lighting design and score — coupled with the review’s decision to leave out both audience reaction to the show’s Korean language elements and a lack of discussion about the performers themselves — denied the production’s K-pop performance elements “very legitimacy as part of a Broadway musical” and offered an “implicit assertion of traditional white cultural supremacy.”
“The job of theater critics is to dissect, analyze and ultimately judge work,” the producers’ statement concluded. “We also contend that they have a responsibility to meet a show on its own terms and to be informed enough to know what that even means. Above all, in these troubled times, they have an obligation to do so with cultural sensitivity and absolutely without the casual racist tropes Mr. Green wittingly or not perpetuates.”
In a statement shared with Playbill on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Times noted that after the open letter, the publication “quickly convened a discussion among editors and members of our standards department.” It found that the publication was “in agreement that Jesse’s review was fair” and disagreed “with the argument that Jesse’s criticism is somehow racist.”