Last night, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service New York, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the third and final performance of Dr. Butterfly - A New Musical at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In music, lyrics and movement, it depicts the life and work of Dr. Joo-Myung Seok, a Korean entomologist who lead extensive field work and mapped the ecological distribution of butterflies on the Korean peninsula in the mid-20th Century. He was also a noted linguist and a pacifist.
Seok was born in Pyongyang (now in North Korea) on November 13, 1908. Like virtually every Korean, he suffered during the period of Japanese colonialism from 1910 until Japan's defeat at the end of World War II in 1945. His book A Synonymic list of butterflies of Korea, was published in 1940 by The Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. This marked the first time for a Korean to be sponsored by the British Royal academy. Early in the Korean War, while attempting to protect his samples of butterflies during a period of chaos, he was mistakenly taken to belong to the North Korean's People's Army and shot. He died on October 6, 1950, a month shy of what would have been his forty-second birthday.
Although the musical fictionalized some aspects of Seok's life, it was essentially true to his contributions to the classification of the butterflies of Korea. The musical's two primary leads, Sung Hwan Park as Seok and Yun Jung Choi as Ji-Min, who assisted and loved him, were both outstanding in their roles. Seung Yean Cho was also strong in the supporting role of Ryoung-Cheol Lee, who loved Ji-Min and came to hate Seok because he was the sole object of Hi-Min's affection. The members of the chorus are also to be highly commended.
Both my wife and I enjoyed the performance very much. It was the first time either of us had seen any such work performed in the Korean language. Video monitors to the left and right of the stage provided English subtitles of what was being said and sung.
Dr. Butterfly - A New Musical was organized and presented by the Korea Institute of Performing Arts for Youth. It was supported by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy of Korea and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in New York. Special support was provided by Korean Cultural Service New York. The musical was produced by the Hyundai Theatre Company.