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"Hero: The Musical" -- Photo by Kwan-Hee Ryu.

"Hero: The Musical"
Through September 3, 2011
David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza, Lincoln Center.
Tues.-Fri. 7:30 p.m. and Sat./Sun. 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (including 1 intermission). b
Tickets range from $70 to $120.
(212) 721-8500. www.musical-hero.com

Gun shots announce both acts in "Hero: The Musical," an award-winning Broadway-style Korean production, which had its New York premiere at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.

Dramatic conflict between Meiji-era Japan and King Gojong-era Korea lies at the heart of the musical whose key characters are based on the historical figures Ito Hirobumi (Kim Sung Gee) and An Chunggun (Jeong Sung Hwa).

Set in 1909 two years after the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty, the musical, led by legendary Korean director Ho Jin Yun whom many consider the father of musical theater in Korea, depicts Ito as a ruthless, imperialist dictator and An as a rebel leader, martyr and great man who overcomes his fear of death in a show of defiant strength and courage to ensure Korean independence and national identity.

The songs, though, are less political and dramatic than lyrical and romantic. Particularly moving are a lovely ballad about the seasons and the emptiness of Ito's heart and Sorhui's song about lotus blossoms in honor of the Korean Empress, as well as An's song in which he appeals to Heaven to help preserve Korea's dream of independence and freedom from Japan.

Sorhui (Lee Sung Eun) is a fictitious character and court lady who witnessed the murder of Queen Min in Kyongbok Palace in 1885. She joins King Gojong's secret service team and goes to Japan where she disguises herself as a geisha and wins Ito's affection. After she fails to assassinate Ito, she leaps from a train to her tragic death. Scenic designer Dong Woo Park's use of 3-D technology here was especially effective, though there were some technical difficulties on opening night.

Choreographer Ran Young Lee enhances the chase scenes in which Japanese agents pursue An, but all too often the dance does nothing to forward or develop the drama of the story.

Dramatic conflict heightens primarily through the interaction of characters, but humorous dialogue, choreography and songs relieve the tension. Facing a death sentence for assassinating Ito, An defies Japanese law and accuses the imperialist nation of hypocrisy. His captor song acknowledges Japan's efforts to dethrone King Gojong and its repressive education, social and political reforms during its control of Korea. An's song ends with a cry, "Who is guilty?"

An's mother, Cho Maria (Rim Yong Hee), is portrayed as equally heroic. Her main song advises her son, "It is time to go." It is she who helps allay her son's fears and encourages him to show great courage and strength in his resolve to preserve his name in history as a great man struggling for his nation's independence and national identity.

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