What do old Hollywood musicals and East Asian variety shows have in common?

If you’ve read the bio I’ve posted here on my website, you’ll notice that I enjoy watching “East Asian variety shows and old Hollywood musicals.” These two forms of entertainment may seem quite disparate at first, but they share a number of similarities.

The biggest similarity, I believe, is the concept of the well-rounded performer.

To be box-office material during the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals in the 1930s and ‘40s, you needed to be more than a good singer. You had to be able to dance, act, and wear a costume well, in addition to having a distinctive onscreen persona and an appealing or otherwise interesting physical appearance.

The same standards apply in the East Asian entertainment industry today, although the list can be expanded to include rapping, modeling and a self-deprecating sense of humor. This is not to say that some Hollywood musical stars weren’t offered modeling contracts or expected to be funny at their own expense; it’s just that these skills are more universally required in the East Asian entertainment industry regardless of a performer’s onscreen persona.

Without further ado, I’d like to share two clips that illustrate how old Hollywood musicals and East Asian Variety shows both require performers with an expansive professional toolkit.

In “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” from 1937’s “Shall We Dance,” Astaire and Rogers deviate from their more familiar song and dance numbers and instead sing and dance on roller skates. As someone who has attempted roller skating without any choreography involved, my respect for the iconic pair tripled upon watching this scene.

If acting, roller skating, dancing, singing, effortlessly wearing stylish costumes, and taking a comedic tumble – all within a span of five and a half minutes – doesn’t indicate well-roundedness, I would be hard-pressed to say what does.

The concept for this program, titled “Show Show Show,” is that the guests – in this episode, Korean pop group U-KISS – must audition to join the Show Girls (portrayed by a trio of female TV personalities) by demonstrating their special talents.

Special talents, unfortunately, don’t always work out as planned. This is sometimes simply due to chance, as with U-KISS member Hoon at the 4:25 mark, and sometimes for regrettably painful comedic effect, as poor Kevin discovers starting at 8:36.

In addition to demonstrating their special talents, the U-KISS members also emulate Seo Taiji and Boys, a seminal group from the 1990s, by recreating their songs, choreography and costumes, and perform one of their own singles. You need a wide range of performance skills to execute all of that successfully.

What do you think? Do you agree with my comparison of old Hollywood musicals and East Asian variety shows? What similarities or differences do you see?

– Teresa Santoski


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