Pacific Overtures

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For Sondheim aficionados (as I’m guessing most VDP members are), a new revival of “Pacific Overtures” opened last night at Classic Stage Company. As directed by John Doyle in his trademark minimalist style, it is pared back in every way—10 actors as compared with over two dozen in the 1976 original cast; they wear street clothes instead of Japanese costumes; the set is spare; and the show had been reduced to a one-act 90-minute piece. (Among the cuts was one my favorites songs: Chrysanthemum Tea; it was missed.)

On the other hand, the actors are uniformly terrific, the singing is first-rate, and the story of the Japan’s opening to the West—or, rather, being forced to open—remains heart-rending. And then there are Sondheim’s glorious songs, eastern and western at once, unlike anything he’s ever done before or since, yet recognizable as his work — “Someone in a Tree,” “Welcome to Kanagawa,” “A Bowler Hat,” and “Pretty Lady.” In the end, do you really need any other reason to see Pacific Overtures? Of course not.

Joe Nocera

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Posted: 04/14/17 by Ken Roman

The original 1976 Broadway production of this Sondheim-Weidman show got mixed reviews, as did most of the several revivals, some employing techniques of Kabuki theatre. The current revival at the Classic Stage Company is performed in-the-round with an energetic cast of ten mainly Asian American actors and a terrific pit band supervised by Rob Berman of “Encores” fame. This small-scale production works. The only name in the cast is the talented Ann Harada, who originated the role of Christmas Eve in “Avenue Q,” but everyone comes through in telling the story of Admiral Perry opening up Japan to the West. It’s not anyone’s favorite Sondheim, but it is a classic, with memorable numbers like “Pretty Lady” and “Please Hello.”

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