‘KPOP’ composer Helen Park poised to make Tony Awards history

The lifespan of the new Broadway musical “KPOP” was cut dramatically short, but that doesn’t mean the show is out of the running at the upcoming Tony Awards. “KPOP” pulls back the curtain on the Korean music phenomenon. The musical follows solo act MwE (played by actual KPOP sensation Luna) as she endures a grueling training regimen and bears the weight of impossibly high expectations on her quest to stardom. Two other KPOP groups fill out the story by showcasing the behind-the-scenes tension which often simmers within the group dynamic.

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Helen Park and Max Vernon provided the music and lyrics for the unique musical. The story was originally conceived as an immersive experience when it debuted Off-Broadway at Ars Nova. But the composers retooled the story for a seated Broadway bow this season.

Park is the first Asian female composer with a musical on Broadway. This type of authentic representation was a welcome change considering the historic lack of Asian stories on the rialto. The most famous tuners which contain Asian settings or characters, like “Miss Saigon” or “The King and I,” were composed by white men.

As of this writing, Park and Vernon’s “KPOP” music sits in 7th place in Gold Derby’s combined odds for Best Score. The tunes from “Almost Famous” and “Life of Pi” are the only contenders standing in the duo’s path towards becoming one of the five eventual nominees.

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Users might be hesitant to predict the show because “KPOP” had an unfortunately brief run on Broadway. It’s out of town tryout was canceled, so the retooled show opened with an extended preview period to give the company time to settle into the changes for Broadway. But the cast was besieged by a Covid outbreak during the last weeks of previews which sidelined many actors. I personally attended a show during this period where the director stepped on stage to explain that every single understudy and swing in the company would be on stage that night, some covering roles for the first time.

While audiences were able to witness the true talent and dedication of these Broadway actors, cast absences led to some canceled performances and ultimately delayed opening night by a week. Though the show would receive some positive notices with great pull quotes from critics, the extended preview period had already scaled up operating costs for the musical. With high costs and canceled shows, “KPOP” closed after just 17 regular performances.

Shows with such a short run don’t often fare well at the Tony Awards, but we should remember that the Tony nominating committee is a small group who sees every single eligible show. It won’t take very many votes from within this group to push “KPOP” into the Best Score category. Given that the musical was a sold-out sensation in its original, more experimental, form Off-Broadway, it’s likely that many nominators saw the show years ago and retain fond memories of it.

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