Jeon Do-yeon returns to the stage amid a theater renaissance for screen actors

The top-notch actress Jeon Do-yeon will perform in the theatrical play “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov in June. It is her first play in 27 years since her debut. [MANAGEMENT SOOP]

The top-notch actor Jeon Do-yeon will return to the theater for the first time in 27 years with a starring role of “The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov. Award-winning director Simon Stone will take the helm of the play, scheduled to hit the stage between June 4 and July 7 at the LG Arts Center Seoul in Magok, western Seoul.

It is the third time for Jeon to appear in a play since her debut in 1990. The actor performed in “Educating Rita” in 1997 and the musical “The Queen of Opera Tears” in 1998.

Over her acting career spanning more than three decades, Jeon has portrayed numerous characters in nearly 50 films and drama series, even winning Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival in 2007 with the film “Secret Sunshine,” but the 51-year-old Jeon hardly took to the stage.

“The Cherry Orchard” is a large-scale collaborative project between the LG Arts Center and Stone, initiated in 2020. Set in Russia in the 19th century, the original plot touches upon the life of a declining aristocratic family, but it will be adapted for the Korean audience with its setting changed from Russia to Korea.

Stone, who reportedly read and watched more than 200 Korean books and films, cast actors he has been paying attention to.

Jeon Do-yeon, left, poses for a photo with Lee Hye-young when they perform for the musical play “The Queen of Opera Tears” in 1998. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

“There’s something that Korean actors have that moves between comedy and tragedy effortlessly and there are almost no actors in the world that have it the way that Korean actors have it,” said Stone in a promotional video clip uploaded by the LG Arts Center. He continued, “‘The Cherry Orchard’ is about a period of change. It’s really interesting to look at the way that society here in Seoul and South Korea is always looking to the future. Always battling what the future will be. That’s a very similar situation to Russia in 1905.”

Jeon has been enjoying her second heyday with her recent work, such as “Crash Course in Romance” on tvN and “Kill Boksoon” on Netflix becoming hits, but decided not to settle down and instead keep moving forward.

For actors, a stage performance is a kind of test bed where they can verify their acting ability. For this reason, some celebrities choose theatrical plays or musicals for their comeback projects after a hiatus. Actor Park Bo-gum chose the musical “Let Me Fly” as his first work after he was discharged from his mandatory military service last year.

The theater also enables stars to enjoy the sheer fun of live performances. These two are the primary reasons actors such as Hwang Jung-min, Park Hae-soo, and Son Suk-ku keep try their hands at theatrical plays while voraciously pursuing their on-screen careers. Not to mention that such stars are always welcomed in the performance industry because they are surefire ways to attract crowds to theaters.

Park Bo-gum, Na Ha-na, and Ahn Jee-hwan, from far left, pose for a photo shoot at the Korea Musical Awards held in January at Kyung Hee University located in Dongdaemun District, central Seoul. They star in the musical “Let Me Fly.” [YONHAP]

Another thing is that the local entertainment industry has been sluggish over the past few years. Some people in the know say the number of produced films and drama series is decreasing in recent years, with many piling up without being released. Eventually, actors have no choice but to pick plays and musicals over films and drama series.

Last year, theatrical plays featuring the aforementioned stars were all sold out. Tickets for other theatrical plays such as “Shakespeare in Love” featuring actors Kim You-jung and Jeon So-min, “Our Little Sister” with actor Park Ha-sun, and “Wife” with singer-actor Choi Soo-young sold like hotcakes.

“With average ticket prices going up, the audience tends to choose and watch [works] with stars,” said Eom Hong-hyeon, the CEO of EMK Musical Company. “The stars have massive clout affecting ticket sales,” Eom added.

The ongoing musical “Monte Cristo” attracted nearly twice as many audiences as the previous season as it features singer-actor Seo In-guk as a lead in his first musical in 12 years. The musical also has Kim Sung-cheol and Lee Kyu-hyung, who are both musical actors but appeared in drama series produced by over-the-top platforms.

The musical “Frida” featuring Kim Hieora from the Netflix original series “The Glory” succeeded in becoming a hit last year.

A person working in the performance industry who wished to remain anonymous said, “Management companies used to turn down offers from theatrical plays in the past. They didn’t even read the scripts. But now it’s different because popular actors such as Hwang Jung-min and Park Hae-soo keep doing plays. Management companies seriously review proposals from plays these days.”

Choi Soo-young, the former member of the girl group Girls’ Generation, second from right, appears in the play “Wife.” [GLEAM COMPANY]

This year, there will be more star-studded plays. Actor Um Ki-joon landed the lead role in the play titled “Art,” which opened last month. Actor Sung Hoon will also take part in the first play of his acting career.

Actor-director Pang Eun-jin took the stage to perform in the play “Bea,” which opened on Feb. 17 at LG Arts Center.

Famous actors Cho Jung-seok and Yoo Yeon-seok will perform in the musical “Hedwig,” which is slated to open next month at Charlotte Theater in Songpa District, western Seoul. Some, however, raise the concern that the advance of screen stars into theatrical plays would make the rich richer and the poor poorer. They say audiences will flock to performances with stars while other small performances will end up with empty seats. Another criticism is that the star performers will deprive chances for other actors whose main career is on the stage.

“The total audience numbers may decrease when the performance industry heavily revolves around blockbuster theatrical plays featuring A-list stars,” said an official working in the industry.