Well the Missus and I trundled down to the Lyric Stage Company to catch Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman) and say, it was . . . subarashi.
This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.
Sondheim/Weidman collaborations tend to be equal parts weird and engrossing, and Pacific Overtures is no exception. The Lyric’s producing artistic director Spiro Veloudos is something of a Sondheim soulmate, having staged ten of Sondheim’s musicals in the past 20 years. (The Lyric’s production of Sondheim/Weidman’s’s Assassins was surpassing strange and entirely compelling.)
Here’s the Lyric’s trailer for the current production, but to get a true sense of Sondheim’s brilliant lyrics, check out this performance of “Please, Hello” (at 1:29:28) from the original 1976 Broadway production. In it, emissaries from the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and France crowbar their way into Japan at the end of the 19th century. (You can read the lyrics here.)
Not to get technical about it, but the Lyric’s version is way more fun.
The cast is uniformly terrific (special shoutout to Gary Thomas Ng and Karina Wen), and the musicians are exceptionally adroit.
The production runs through June 16th. Well worth a trundle.