TripAdvisor - Japan
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Stephen Sondheim aficionados and newcomers alike will be engaged by
the remake of Pacific Overtures under the
direction of Eric Schaeffer. Schaeffer worked on the revised script with Sondheim and John
Weidman who wrote the book for the show. In this scaled-down version, the original cast of
thirty-nine players becomes ten who commendably play multiple roles and the original
orchestra of twenty-two musicians is reduced to a seven-piece ensemble.
Constrained by the size of their current theater, Signature Theatre makes the most of what their space allows. Schaeffer goes minimal and camp with his approach as opposed to the lavish pageantry of the original 1976 Broadway production which was nominated for ten Tony awards, receiving two, for scenery and costumes.
Pacific Overtures is a musical in two acts and eighteen scenes that tells the history of the opening of Japan to the western world from the Japanese point of view. The timeframe spans 1853 to the present. With the rewrite, the grand finale now mentions such recent events as Japans role in war-torn Iraq.
The story of Pacific Overtures is told in the style of the Kabuki theater, narrated by a character known as the Reciter. Schaeffer has cast talented star Donna Migliaccio in this barefoot role. It is the first time a woman has played the Reciter and adds to the campiness of gender-bending casting that is traditional to Kabuki theater and to the original choices made for the world premiere by director Harold Prince, who primarily cast men in womens roles. Nevertheless singing the male role of the Reciter is a challenge for a womans voice and there are points in the opening scenes where Migliaccio seems to be straining to reach the low notes.
Schaeffer has also cast a second woman, Channez McQuay, to play seven roles that include men and women characters. What the casting does is alter the audience perception of reality such that no character can be taken for granted. However, the campiest scene occurs at the end of Act I when Commodore Perry comes goose-stepping through the audience in red platform shoes. To the Japanese sensibilities, all the Westerners are barbarians, from the Russian who wears a fur coat (and repeatedly warns dont touch the coat) to the American Perry who looks like a fey toy soldier.
Just like Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures offers songs like Four Black Dragons that get into your head and ambush you with their snappy rhythms. Sondheims music for Pacific Overtures, which features quasi-pentatonic scales that suggest Asian music but also includes touches of Gilbert and Sullivan and French can-can, plays remarkably well under the direction of Jon Kalbfleisch with his scaled down orchestra.
Washington, May 22, 2005 - Karren L. Alenier