Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pacific Overtures


It was interesting to see Pacific Overtures the day after The Hairy Ape. Both are radically conceived revivals of works that are not generally considered to be among their creator’s finest. Both revivals succeed in making the case that these works should not be overlooked. John Doyle is working his way through the Sondheim canon; he has directed Company, Sweeney Todd, Passion and Road Show. In the first two of these, the actors were burdened with also being the musicians. Fortunately he has not repeated that gimmick for this CSC production. What he has given us is an intimate, streamlined, modern dress version with a fine cast. Pacific Overtures differs from his other shows in that it is basically a musicalized history lesson with characters that are sketched rather than fully developed. With a lovely score ably orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick and an interesting book by John Weidman with additional material by Hugh Wheeler, it doesn’t need fancy sets and costumes to make its case. [However I must say that I enjoyed the visually lavish Roundabout revival in 2004.] In this production, Doyle’s design is basically a long runway platform that continues up the wall on one side like a scroll and has a Japanese seat near one end. The audience face each other along the long sides and the musicians are at one end. The performers move fluidly both along the platform and both side aisles. Most of the cast of ten play multiple roles. George Takei plays the reciter. Ann Harada adds humor as the madam and the French admiral. Stephen Eng and Megan Masako Haley are strong as the hapless Kayama and his wife Tamate. Karl Josef Co, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, Orville Mendoza, Marc Oka and Thom Sesma round out the fine cast. They all wear contemporary Western attire accessorized on occasion by silks that recall the famous “Great Wave” print. Sometimes a stripped-down production is valuable in revealing what is essential about a show. It works quite well here. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission. NOTE: I advise against front row seats particularly if you are short, because the runway platform is quite high. Also, front row seats have no arms.

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