Review Roundup: George Takei Stars in Classic Stage Company's Revival of PACIFIC OVERTURES
In the ground-breaking Pacific Overtures, Commodore Matthew Perry sails to Japan in 1853 on a U.S mission to open up trade relations at any cost. The musical tells the tale of a samurai and a fisherman who are caught up in the Westernization of the East. With Pacific Overtures, which first premiered on Broadway in 1976 (directed by Hal Prince), John Doyle continues his highly-acclaimed and award-winning exploration of Sondheim's work, having directed the legendary composer's Sweeney Todd and Company on Broadway, and Passion at CSC.
The cast of Pacific Overtures features Karl Josef Co, Marc delaCruz, Steven Eng, Megan Masako Haley, Ann Harada, Kimberly Immanuel, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, Orville Mendoza, Marc Oka, Thom Sesma, and George Takei.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Jesse Green, The New York Times: The sometimes-glorious, sometimes-lackluster revival that John Doyle has staged in Classic Stage's 200-seat Off Broadway home takes that less-is-more proposition nearly to a point of no return. Unlike Harold Prince's original production at the 1,500-seat Winter Garden, with its jaw-dropping Boris Aronson scenery and costumes by Florence Klotz, Mr. Doyle starts from zero and adds only what he feels he must. He's an essentialist, not a minimalist.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Director John Doyle is such a wizard, he could probably stage a show on a postage stamp. The stage at Classic Stage Company is larger than that - as reconfigured for this Off-Broadway house, the playing space for Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" unfurls like a Japanese scroll, creating a ramp that runs the length of the theater. The stylized performances of a superb Asian-American cast - including George Takei - are ideally suited to this minimalist production of one of the great musicals of our time.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The frugal restraint of the production - using minimal props and lengths of wave-print fabric to represent everything from water to tatami matting to ceremonial robes - highlights the delicacy of one of Sondheim's most evocative scores. Dominated by woodwinds, strings and unsettling bursts of percussion, Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations for eight musicians are perfect for the intimate setting (the audience is seated on either side of the long stage), giving crystalline clarity to every lyric.
Matt Windman, amNY: The new off-Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's intricate and unusual 1976 musical "Pacific Overtures" is like a bonsai tree that has been pruned with hedge clippers instead of scissors, or a barber shop customer who got too close a shave from Sweeney Todd.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Doyle has trimmed Sondheim's operatic 1976 musical (with librettist John Weidman) down to a single 90-minute act, in the process cutting a couple of songs beloved to purists. The result, though, is a spare and serene story that seems particularly relevant in a day when nations everywhere are reexamining stances on globalization.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Pacific Overtures, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's musical about the West's intrusion on Japan in the 19th century, is a show with spectacular demands. The original 1976 production was staged (and written) as a grand Kabuki pageant; the 2002 Japanese-language production at the Lincoln Center Festival went for plainer Noh frills, but offered several breathtaking stage pictures. John Doyle's revival at Classic Stage Company is less lavish still: It has been boiled down-with all the loss of flavor that implies-to a somber 90-minute procession for 10 actors in modern dress, with the barest suggestion of sets and costumes. The Emperor has dull clothes.
Linda Winer, Newsday: George Takei is dignified and wary as the Reciter, not required to sing much. Some favorite songs are missing - no "Lion Dance," because no one plays Perry and no "Chrysanthemum Tea" because there is no Shogun mother. But the gorgeous music still mingles the foreign sounds of wooden flutes with Western vaudeville. "Someone in the Tree" still has poignant wisdom about the unknowability of history. And though realities in Japan and here have changed since 1976, questions about progress have seldom felt as authentic.
David Cote, Village Voice: John Doyle's condensed, ninety-minute Pacific Overtures is but the latest instance of bonsai Sondheim: cultivating miniatures of Saint Steve's masterworks in small pots through careful pruning and clamping...In each case, there's been a gain of emotional intensity along with loss of narrative clarity; this ascetic, muted Pacific follows suit...With its reduced orchestra, modest singing style, and low-key spectacle, Doyle's approach has its strengths. We? really hear those dense lyrics; we lean in to appreciate the subtleties of the caste system. But this production, while ?scrupulously acted, seems to be having ?a conversation with itself, not the audience. There's anger and irony in the ?material (which was unveiled during ?our bicentennial year) that dissipates in Doyle's hermetic coolness.