Show Review: Nanta (Cookin’)

I was invited to watch Nanta (Cookin’) at Marina Bay Sands last week. It was the first time I’ve heard of this musical. Judging from the poster, I figured its about four chefs on stage – cooking. It sounded as exciting as watching paint dry.

The only reason I went was pure curiosity. My girlfriend told me “I was in Korea recently and the show was completely sold out nationwide!” Could it really be that great? One had to find out.

The story of Nanta is simple. Set in a kitchen of a traditional Korean restaurant, this is a story of three cooks attempting to prepare a wedding banquet within a restricted time frame; while having the task for giving cooks lessons to the restaurant manager’s incompetent nephew, who serves as a kitchen helper/assistant to the chefs.

The first scene completely threw me off. The theater was dark, four people walked out on stage, sat on the floor and started to fill the theater with slow and solemn beats with the use of chopsticks, bowls and oil drums. If this was the beginning, I could not wait for the end. I contemplated walking out, but that would be rude.

Thank goodness I stayed! Once the first scene was done and over, the mood suddenly changed. 

The stage came alive with the same four actors performing a fusion of dance and acrobatic moves, magic tricks. and producing beats and music using common kitchen items. At times, the visual presentation can be quite stunning. For example, hearing the rhythmic beats of cabbage being chopped rapidly on a chopping board, and seeing bits and pieces flying in the air made for great entertainment and amusement.

The unifying element of the musical is the use of traditional samul nori music – a traditional form of Korean percussion music. This non-verbal musical is also infused with quite a bit of comedy. Then again, anything would be funny after sitting through the first scene.

What is unique about this musical is the audience involvement. There was a scene where Korean dumplings were supposed to be made. Four audience members were pulled from their seats, onto the stage and made as pseudo chefs adding to the comedic factor.

In the end, I would say the musical exceeded my expectations. Bearing in mind, my expectations were set pretty low to start with. Overall, it was good entertainment.

The show does give you a taste of Korean culture and comedic sense. Kinda like watching STOMP with a bag of kimchi-flavored chips.

Would I go watch it again? Probably not. Once is good enough for me.

Nanta is the longest-running show in Korean history. If you are in Korea and looking for some cultural arts, then get a ticket and watch Nanta. The show is running at Myeong Dong Theatre, Gangbuk Jeondong Theatre, Hongdae Theatre and Jeju Theatre in Korea. There are 2 to 3 shows a day year round.

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