“Eternity. It is the sea mingled with the sun.” The poetry of Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud depicts the meaning of life by using unique symbolism and delicate vocabulary. As a sentimental French poet during the 19th century, Rimbaud created works that remain influential in literature even to this day. Interestingly, the poems of Rimbaud are not only read on paper but also now heard and viewed through a musical. The musical performance Rimbaud shows the audience the life and works of Rimbaud in a mesmerizing way.
Rimbaud is an original Korean musical which held its premiere in 2018, having gone through a three-year production period beforehand. Indeed, the lengthy and steady preparation resulted in positive reactions when it was first performed, drawing a total of 30,000 viewers. With a touching story and music, the performance was reviewed as being enjoyable to people of all ages. Such a response proved the potential the musical held and led to its expansion of performance overseas in December 2018 at the Shanghai Grand Theatre.
The musical is a biographical work describing the life of Rimbaud with the characters of Paul-Marie Verlaine and Ernest Delahaye. The first scene takes place in 1891 when Delahaye, a childhood friend of Rimbaud, delivers the news of Rimbaud’s death to Verlaine, a close partner of young Rimbaud. Delahaye suggests that Verlaine leave for Africa in order to find the final works of Rimbaud, which rewinds the stage to 1871 where the story of Rimbaud and Verlaine all begins. As the plot unfolds, the three characters all show their agonies of life and pursuit of true happiness with an active incorporation of the literary works created by Rimbaud and Verlaine.
The Dynamics of Characters
Since the musical focuses on the life of Rimbaud, it portrays his character in detail with various dimensions. Rimbaud was known to be a sentimental person that experienced intensive ups and downs within himself. When receiving a positive response from Verlaine about his creative works, he shows ecstasy and excitement, but when faced with a negative reply, he expresses depressing emotions and cold apathy. The musical well depicts such characteristics by swimmingly alternating bright rhythmic music with slow somber blues. Moreover, Rimbaud reveals his strong obsession for writing poetry throughout the musical. He pursues perfection when articulating his thoughts and feelings into poetry, rejecting any matter that may possibly hinder the process of producing literary work, including any gossip surrounding him.
Furthermore, the stage effects express the swift changes of his internal emotions by changing the color of the lighting throughout the scenes. Specifically, when Rimbaud is calm and relaxed, the lighting dims the stage with colors of blue and green. In contrast, when he is upset or expresses anger, the color changes to red and orange. For instance, in a scene when Rimbaud and Verlaine are in a quarrel, the colors of the light shift to red, then change into a darker red, well according with the heated emotions of Rimbaud. Paying close attention to the stage overall, the audience may easily understand the change of emotions of Rimbaud.
The characters of Verlaine and Delahaye also play a significant role in the musical. Verlaine is depicted as a brilliant poet, capturing the interest of Rimbaud in the beginning. However, despite his genius, Verlaine exhibits a critical vulnerability when dealing with his own emotions. When he is angry or upset, he constantly depends on alcohol and toys with a gun, which radiates a dark and threatening atmosphere to his character. Compared to Rimbaud and Verlaine, Delahaye is the calmest and most stable character in the musical. He is the one who comforts the other two characters when they are in their deepest lows and reminds them of the purpose of the lives they pursue — creating literature and taking care of their loved ones. While Rimbaud and Verlaine show a very idealistic attitude, Delahaye is realistic and practical, being the one to keep the balance between the characters.
▲ Closing scene in Musical Rimbaud, Photographed by Jun Uhn Jin
Encountering Poetry on Stage
The musical is filled with the characters’ works, reflecting the fact that the main characters of the musical were all fathers of impressive literary works. At the beginning of the musical, Rimbaud reads aloud several poems he created to Delahaye, sitting on a pile of books and papers. One of the poems is “Vowels,” which is a playful and energetic poem that depicts the feelings Rimbaud had about vowels. By connecting each vowel with a specific color, Rimbaud articulates his thoughts of what each vowel would be like. For instance, ‘E’ is connected with the color white and figuratively compared to a cold sensation, such as glaciers, shivers, and vapors. This synesthesia poem is read out loud with lively background music, which well reflects the youthful days of Rimbaud.
Along with Rimbaud’s literary works, the poems of Verlaine are influential factors in the performance. The poem “Green,” in particular, is sung by the characters multiple times throughout the story. When reading the poem, Rimbaud is fascinated by the fact that Verlaine created an impressive and beautiful piece of work only by using simple words — “Take these fruits and flowers, take these leaves and these sprigs, and my very heart too, that beats only for you.” Accompanied by soft classic instruments, “Green” certainly captivates the ears of the audience.
Rimbaud is a musical which embraces every factor that intrigues the mind of the audience. The compelling plotline, dimensional characters, and sentimental music will satisfy both the eyes and ears of the audience. The performance also provokes thoughts about life and happiness. Not only those who are interested in French literature but also people who enjoy listening to gentle and lyrical music with an impressive life story will enjoy watching the performance. Rimbaud once stated, “A thousand dreams within me softly burn.” This line signifies the dreams Rimbaud once had towards his life and poetry. Indeed, the musical performance of Rimbaud meticulously illustrates the exquisite dreams of Rimbaud and those of Verlaine and Delahaye.
Venue| Yes 24 Stage, Hall 1 Date| From 2019 September 7 to December 1
Running Time| 120 minutes
Ticket Price| R Seat: 66,000 won / S Seat: 44,000 won / Student discounts available.