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[Herald Interview] Musical actor Cha Ji-yeon hopes to tell her story in first solo concert

Aug. 28, 2023 - 12:56 By Park Ga-young
Cha Ji-yeon (Cl &Company)

Korean actor Cha Ji-yeon made her debut on the musical stage in 2006 as Rafiki, the wise monkey and advisor to the king, in “The Lion King."

She was working as an office worker when she got the role after years of discouraging auditions and falling victim to scams in her attempt to rekindle her passion for music and performance.

As a child, she had performed alongside her maternal grandfather and uncle, both esteemed masters of "pansori gosu," the skilled drummers who perform alongside pansori singers. Unfortunately, she had to let go of her musical aspirations after her father's business failed.

After "The Lion King," which Cha described as an amazing opportunity and one that she would want to perform again before she dies, she created impressive and charismatic characters for “Aida,” “Dream Girls,” “Rebecca,” “Wicked,” “Red Book” and “Seopyeonje: The Southerners' Songs.” She has also broken gender barriers, notably portraying Salieri in "Amadeus," embodying the character of the middle-aged man Myung-woo in "Gwanghwamoon Love Song," and taking on the role of X in "The Devil."

Despite her impressive debut and the career that followed, it wasn’t until recently that Cha felt confident and comfortable enough to hold a solo concert, which is not unusual for popular musical actors here.

“I was worried whether anyone would come to my concert, but now I have the confidence and pride to take the stage even in front of just a few audience members,” Cha, 41, told reporters during an interview at a Seoul cafe earlier this month.

For the sold-out concert titled "Exhibition," set to take place on Saturday and Sunday at Blue Square in Central Seoul, Cha chose songs that are most meaningful to her in her career as a musical actor.

“The first song that came to my mind was ‘Defying Gravity’ of ‘Wicked,’” she said. In early 2016, Cha, who had married to a fellow musical singer the previous year, discovered that she was pregnant. She was touring with “Rebecca” and was only a few months away from going on stage as Elphaba, the green witch, in "Wicked."

“I tried to conceal any difficulties I was having to avoid imposing any extra burden on other staff members due to my pregnancy,” she said, sharing an anecdote about a time when someone exclaimed, "What the hell are you doing getting pregnant now?” upon learning that she was with child. And that was one of the milder reactions to her pregnancy, Cha said.

“I took to the stage until the seventh month of pregnancy, wearing a support belt around my belly,” she said. "While hitting high notes, I could feel the shape of my baby on the surface of my abdomen. There were moments when I cried backstage," she said.

At the time, she couldn’t say anything to other staff. She couldn’t say anything when she was told to step down from “Hope” against her will, but the departure was announced as "voluntary," citing health reasons.

Cha Ji-yeon (Cl &Company)

She now feels more comfortable sharing these stories, as well as her feelings and thoughts through different channels, including songwriting. She will be unveiling one of her own songs at her upcoming concert.

“I’m preparing this concert with nothing but a sense of appreciation for the fans. There wasn't a single production that was easy. I would not have been able to do this for 17 years without the applause and cheers from my fans," she said.

“I wouldn't wish to relive what I went through, but I now find appreciation for the challenges and hardships of the past. I believe the tears I shed have been well expressed as the colors of my work on the stage. From now on, I want to age gracefully and stylishly and I’ll continue to do my best, as I’ve always done," she said.