‘KPOP’ defies the odds: Tony-nominated composers celebrate the short-lived show
The musical's co-composers, first-time nominees Helen Park and Max Vernon, reflect on the KPOP's journey and celebrate its recognition this season.
Despite closing after a mere 17 regular performances on Broadway, KPOP defied the odds this awards season and earned three Tony Award nominations, including Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Costume Design of a Musical. Featuring a score by Helen Park and Max Vernon, KPOP brought something new to Broadway — the glittery, energetic culture and sound of Korean pop music. The show also marked first-time nominations for Vernon and Park — and Park holds the honor of being the first female Asian composer on Broadway.
The show's recognition this awards season has been gratifying for the co-composers. KPOP may have had a short run on Broadway, but the musical, which premiered off Broadway in 2017 with an immersive production, has been a career-changing experience for the creators.
The show’s nine-year journey to Broadway was a collaborative effort. “All I wanted was to write a good K-pop musical that I could be proud of, with music that I’d want to listen to over and over again,” said Park. “The process wasn’t always easy, but I gained so much from it and grew so much as a writer and music producer. This nomination feels like an acknowledgment of the work, time, and love that was poured into the show, not just by me but everyone involved.”
Vernon added, “It's been part of my life for over a quarter of the time I've been on this planet. KPOP is the culmination of one chapter of my life: being a young artist discovering their sound and identity, fighting to open doors, and trying to change how musical theatre sounds and looks, both on stage and in the audience.”
Vernon and Park brought their talents and unique experiences to the nearly decade-long development process, which involved crafting over 50 songs for the musical. “I brought my work ethic, ambition, and drive,” said Vernon. For Park, the creative process pulled from her cultural experience and childhood love of Korean pop music. “It was like bringing a piece of my home to Broadway.”
While the production closed after just two weeks, the Tony Award nods have allowed the co-composers to reflect on their learnings and look forward to their careers.
“KPOP is the show that started my career,” said Park. “It’s also a special show personally for me, as it combines the pop music of my home country (Korea) and my favorite medium for storytelling, musical theatre. I don’t know if I’ll work on a show quite like KPOP again. It’s a miracle that it found me, and I’m grateful I was able to partake in creating the score for the show.”
Earlier in their career, Vernon’s idea of the “pinnacle of achievement” was presenting a reading of a new musical with music stands and at least 10 audience members, but the Tony Award nomination has moved the goalpost. “It's really gratifying to see how my work has resonated with so many audiences,” said Vernon. “The Tony nomination feels like an encouragement to keep forging ahead and that there's space in this community for a genderqueer punk like me.”
When asked what advice they would give to their younger selves at this moment, the two shared powerful messages of self-acceptance, which mirror the show’s themes. “Never apologize for being who you are, and never dim your light for anyone,” said Vernon.
Park shared, “You might feel like you’re always halfway there, not belonging anywhere because you’re different. But please don’t be ashamed of that. Embrace it, own it, and be proud of it. One day you’ll see that being different is a good thing.”
KPOP’s Broadway run may have been short. Still, it proved that “different” deserves a rightful place on Broadway, and the Tony nominations serve as an encouraging nod for the co-composers to keep creating new form-breaking work.
Photo credit: The cast of KPOP on Broadway. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)
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