UPDATE: Playbill has obtained a letter from KPOP producers Tim Forbes and Joey Parnes to New York Times leadership requesting an apology from Jesse Green.
In what seems to be turning into a growing trend, company members of Broadway's KPOP are speaking out following a negative review of the musical by New York Times theatre critic Jesse Green.
The musical, a behind-the-scenes look at the worldwide K-pop music phenomenon, follows the American debut of a fictional K-pop music label RBY. The label's superstars—including solo artist MwE, played be real-life K-pop superstar Luna; girl group RTMIS; and boy band F8—prepare for a high-stakes NYC concert as a documentary filmmaker captures the performances and backstage struggles.
Those upset with Green's review take issue with the critic's seeming displeasure with the amount of Korean language in KPOP. "[T]hose who aren't hard-core fans of the genre or don't understand Korean—let alone those who saw the radically different and far superior Off-Broadway version in 2017—will have a harder time enjoying this one," Green writes. He's referencing the musical's 2017 world premiere Off-Broadway at Ars Nova. Though the musical has been substantially revised on its journey to Broadway, both the earlier iteration and the current Broadway script include both lines and lyrics in Korean.
Notably, when reviewing National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's 2018 production of Fiddler on the Roof (currently back for an encore run at New World Stages) that is performed completely in Yiddish, Green gushed that its language allowed the production to offer "a kind of authenticity no other American Fiddler ever has[.]" The productions do differ, however, in that Fiddler provides English and Russian supertitles throughout the performance; KPOP does not.
Several KPOP cast members took to social media to express their opinions of Green's review. John Yi, who plays F8 member Danny, struck back at the review, writing in an Instagram post, "The starting place for Green's review was that if you don't understand Korean or you're not already a fan of the KPOP genre, then this show is not for you. This is a Korean story and intermingling Korean with English doesn't mean this story is not for every single member of our wonderful and diverse Broadway community. KPOP is as much for English speaking theatregoers as much as an Italian opera is at the Met." He then called the review "racist."
Abraham Lim, who stars as fellow F8 member Jae Ik, posted his own video response on Instagram, specifically taking issue with Green describing portions of KPOP's lighting design (by Jiyoun Chang) as "squint-inducing." Lim told Green to "find better words," calling that word choice an act of "disrespect" because the cast of KPOP is made up of mostly Asian actors, and the musical is co-created by Asian creatives. "If you are not an Asian American that has been made fun of for their squinty eyes or their slanty eyes, I’m sorry, I don’t want to hear from you right now. You can take a seat," he says in the video.
In other cases, friends and family of cast members jumped into the fray. Howard Ho—the partner of Jully Lee (who plays KPOP's label impresario Ruby)—posted a line-by-line annotation of Green's entire review.
Though once seen as borderline taboo, artists have increasingly been turning to social media to respond when they disagree with a critic's review. Green himself is no stranger to the practice; he was put on blast by Tony winner Tonya Pinkins last month for his take on The Public Theater's Off-Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, which starred Pinkins as Lena Younger.
Beyond Green's take, the reviews on KPOP were decidedly mixed, though no other reviews have drawn the same level of ire. No major outlets sent Korean or Asian American critics to review the musical. You can read what Green and other outlets had to say about the show, which opened November 27 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, here.
A request for a response from Green was not returned.
Conceived by Jason Kim and the Woodshed Collective, KPOP features a book by Kim; music, lyrics, music production, and arrangements by Helen Park; and music and lyrics by Max Vernon.