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REVIEW: "Xcalibur" - A Virtual Telecast From South Korea (with Subtitles)

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

A Panarama of Sword & Scorcery!

Now through July 11th, here’s your chance to experience something you don’t get to see every day: a big, Broadway-style smash musical staged from halfway across the globe.

Chock-full of swashbuckling adventure, memorable songs and intricate costumes, this South Korean two and a half hour Broadway On Demand fairy-tale ride of “Xcalibur” tells the familiar, timeless fable of King Arthur, his beloved Guinevere and the story of the legendary Sword in the Stone.

The musical reinterprets the legend of King Arthur, centering on his leadership and charisma, and his path from being an ordinary man to becoming the renowned British monarch, after pulling the fabled sword Excalibur from a sacred stone.

Produced by EMK Musical Company, the lavish musical “Xcalibur” takes pride in its star-studded line-up. With actors Dokyeom (from the famous South Korean boy band Seventeen), Kim Jun su and Jung Ki yeol alternately playing the role of King Arthur, the result is a full array of raw emotions, elaborate, magical stagings, marvelously realistic sceneries and astonishing period costumes.

Complemented by a cast of 75 actors and a 28-piece orchestra, this blockbuster virtual telecast (with English subtitles) will be unlike any musical you have seen before. It was one of the most highly anticipated theatrical productions of 2019, and still maintains that popularity to this day. The musical, directed by Stephen Rayne, is the latest collaboration between composer Frank Wildhorn and playwright Ivan Menchell, who are the brains behind many hit musicals including "Bonnie and Clyde," "Death Note," and "Mata Hari."

Wildhorn set the music appropriately to a Celtic style, with lyrics written by Robin Lernel, and arrangements and orchestrations by Koen Schoots. The musical premiered on March 15, 2014 at the Theater St. Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and a concept album was released the following month, entering the No. 1 slot on Amazon and iTunes in Germany. South Korea debuted this, the current production of the musical, in 2019.

King Arthur is one of, if not the, most legendary icons of medieval Britain. His popularity has lasted centuries, mostly thanks to the numerous incarnations of his story that pop up time and time again. Indeed, his is one of the most enduring stories of all time. Though his tale is rooted in the fifth and sixth centuries, it has continued to captivate audiences to this very day.

Arthur, a Celtic king born of deceit and adultery, grew to become one of the most famous and most loved rulers of Britain. He was a warrior, a knight and a king who killed giants, witches and monsters and led a band of heroes on many daring adventures. Even though his end was tragic, he is still celebrated all over the world today; his story is even painted on the halls of the British Parliament, exploiting his heroic deeds and chivalric romance. In fact, the name of his castle, Camelot, has come to signify the golden age of chivalry. If you remember, the greatest quest of Arthur and his Knights was his search for the mythical Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper.

It was a time of chaos and bloodshed. It was The Dark Ages a time when medieval Britain was torn apart by war. The knotty, interlaced plot is full of deceit, death and despair as Uther Pendragon, the high king of Celtic Britain, is infatuated by Igraine, the wife of the Duke of Cornwall.

Disguising himself as Igraine's husband, the despotic Pendragon sneaks into her bed and she conceives Arthur. Merlin the wizard takes Arthur away from his parents and raises the child himself. Upon Uther's death, the knights do not know who should take his place. Merlin declares that whoever could draw a mysterious sword out of a stone should be the next king. Many try but all fail.

When Arthur is sent to find a sword to replace his brother's broken one, he comes upon the magical sword Excalibur in the stone and, not knowing the prophecy, draws it out. Thus, he is proclaimed the new king.

Some of the more prominent musical numbers include "Der Heiler / The Healer," as the wizard Merlin rams the sword into a massive stone, proclaiming that whoever frees Excalibur from the stone will be crowned the true King of England. To everyone’s surprise, Arthur climbs the stone and frees Excalibur, but at first refuses to accept his destiny as king ("Schwert und Stein / Sword and Stone").

Two additional stand-out numbers in the musical are the thrilling "Sünden der Väter / Sins of the Fathers," performed by the beautiful Morgana as she swears revenge on her half-brother, and Arthur’s rousing battle cry, "Die ruhmreiche Schlacht / The Glorious Battle."

Later, when Arthur is subsequently crowned King of England, the number, "Heute Nacht fängt es an / It Begins Tonight," mightily heralds his new sovereignty. But, as Arthur prepares for war, he grows distant from Guinevere, and she bemoans their loss of love with the somber, "Wo ging die Liebe hin / How Do You Make Love Stay?" And with prescience and expectation in a spirited finale, Arthur and Guinevere are reunited, with the hope that Camelot will one day rise again ("Vor langer Zeit / Long Ago").

"Xcalibur" is only one of many variations from both film and stage, revealing secrets of one of the most intriguing heroes of all time. In this confusing and sometimes frightening world, audiences seek out reassurances from the models of the past. They want a standard of moral integrity and visionary leadership that is inspirational and transformational in equal measure – one that they may not be able to find in the world around them, but can always discover in the stories of King Arthur.

Moral integrity, loyalty to one’s friends and kin and defending the weak form the cornerstone of how Arthurian fellowship has been defined through the centuries. They offer the reassurance that doing the morally right thing is valuable, even if it may bring about temporary defeat. In the end, virtues and values prevail and it is these enduring features of the legends that have kept them alive in the hearts and minds of so many throughout the centuries.

Xcalibur, a dazzling, mind-blowing spectacle of a show, now available from Broadway on Demand through July 11th. I strongly recommend checking it out this holiday season. Also starring Kim So hyang, alternating with Min Kyung ah, as Guinevere; Um Ki-joon, Lee Ji-hoon and Park Kang hyun alternating as Lancelot; Kim Joon hyun and Son Joon ho sharing the role of Merlin; Shin Young sook and Jang Eun ah rotating as Morgana; and Park Chulho and Jo Wonhee splitting the role of Ector.

Directed by Stephen Rayne; Music Arrangement & Orchestration by Koen Schoots; Orchestra: The One; Korean Lyrics and Script by Park Chun Hwi; Music Director and Conductor is Won Mi Sol; Choreographer is Jayme McDaniel; Set Designer is Jung Seung Ho;

Costume Designer is Jo Moon Sou; Wigs, Hair and MakeUp is by Kim Yoo Sun. Lighting Designer is Koo Yun Young; Projection Designer is Song Seung Kue; Sound Design is by Kim Ji Hyun; Props by Cho Yun Hyoung; Martial Arts Director is Marcello Marascalchi; Electronic Music Director is Hiro Iida; Technical Director is Bae Kyeong Seok; Stage Manager is Lee Jin Ho. Production Manager is Jung Eun Yong; Producer is Sophy Jiwon Kim; Executive Producer is Eum Hong Hyeon.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


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