My Scary Girl
nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
October 2, 2009
Sweetness and savagery go hand in severed hand in My Scary Girl, the new Korean-language musical at NYMF. This queasy combination doesn't always coagulate, and some of the humor gets lost in translation, but the show exudes a buoyant energy that clearly demonstrates why South Korea is an emerging musical powerhouse.
My Scary Girl is a musicalization of a popular South Korean horror film about a naive English professor who falls in love with a beautiful girl who just might the woman of his dreams. Or she just might be a serial killer. The secret to her past is stuffed in her kimchi fridge, but will its revelation put their love on ice? Such is the deliberately inane plot.
I've never seen the film, but all the scary movie stereotypes are all here: the nerd (Dae Woo), the beautiful girl with a secret (Mi Na), the slutty best friend (Jang Mi), the horny guy (Sung Sik), etc. Kyoung Ae Kang's book has fun with this goofy cast of characters, and she pokes fun at both the horror and musical genres. Not all the jokes translate, but the self-consciously ridiculous moments carry well, particularly nebbish hero Dae Woo's flowery love songs and Mi Na's seductively silly "Only Ladies," an ode to her bathroom.
But multiple locations and loose ends make things confusing. Awkwardly translated supertitles don't always provide clarification, either. The action jumps to various bars, street corners, forests, apartments and offices of characters who aren't always defined. An old boyfriend of Mi Na's suddenly appears out of nowhere. So does Jang Mi's abusive boyfriend, with his own weird revenge plot. Jang Mi sings how she will seduce Dae Woo, but this twist is quickly dropped.
Will Aronson's lively score is punctuated by some surprisingly sincere ballads from Dae Woo and Mi Na, but the action doesn't always build coherently into a reason for singing. Sometimes, the songs feel forcibly grafted onto the script as opposed to developing naturally from the narrative. Such is the case with "Best Friend," the song that introduces Mi Na and Jang Mi. It's an arch pop song parody, but it begins and ends abruptly for no apparent reason, other than to perfunctorily introduce the characters. Yes, My Scary Girl is a parody of musicals, but the transition from spoken dialogue should always be seamless. Jung Boo Byun's confident direction can't overcome this obstacle.
The ensemble plays their roles with gusto. The show's tone is tongue-in-cheek, yet the actors play their satirical stereotypes with disarming sincerity, particularly Jae Bum Kim as the awkward Dae Woo and Jin Ui Bang as his "sweet and savage love," Mi Na. Jae Hong Jeon makes an appropriately unctuous Sung Sik, the ladies man who is best friend and advisor to Dae Woo. As sexy Jang Mi, Jin Hee Kim stops the show with the comedic Fosse homage, "As Good as Mi Na." Sang Hyun Jin and Hong Gyu demonstrate athletic versatility as the ghostly narrators who transform into everything from wolves to kimchi fridge salesman to gondoliers. Their transformation is helped by Sun Ho Shin's witty, ebullient character-specific choreography.
The cast's pure joy make My Scary Girl memorable, transcending any flaws. The creative team, Kyoung Ae Kang and Will Aronson, show great promise. In the end, My Scary Girl isn't always as seamless as it could be, but it's nevertheless a fascinatingly sweet- and- sour musical valentine.