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Pacific Overtures (1976 Original Broadway Cast)
Stephen Sondheim, Alvin Ing, Conrad Yama
Pacific Overtures (1976 Original Broadway Cast)
Genres: Pop, Soundtracks, Broadway & Vocalists
 
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1

Pacific Overtures is one of Stephen Sondheim's most rewarding but least-appreciated works. Part of the reason is it's been one of the least-staged Sondheim shows due to its unusual requirements: following the conventions o...  more »

      
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Pacific Overtures is one of Stephen Sondheim's most rewarding but least-appreciated works. Part of the reason is it's been one of the least-staged Sondheim shows due to its unusual requirements: following the conventions of the Japanese Noh play, it uses an all-Asian, all-male cast, and authentic instruments such as the shamisen. As a slice of history, John Weidman's book is fascinating: In 1853, Japan's borders were closed to all foreigners until the arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of trade relations. Sondheim's score captures the delicacy of Japanese verse ("Poems"), a blackly humorous scene of the emperor's refusal to acknowledge the American ships ("Chrysanthemum Tea"), Gilbert & Sullivan-esque patter ("Please Hello"), and the most beautiful song ever written about prostitution (the lyric men's trio "Pretty Lady"). Worthy of special mention is the song Sondheim has often claimed as his best ever, "Someone in a Tree," which describes the crucial meeting in the treaty house from the perspective of different characters on the outside. Over a quarter century after its 1976 Broadway debut, Pacific Overtures began to enjoy increased attention from theater companies, culminating in a Broadway revival in 2004. --David Horiuchi

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CD Reviews

Sondheim & Prince's offering for the U.S. Bicentennial
Mark Andrew Lawrence | Toronto | 01/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"1976 - America was celebrating two hundred years of idependence. Tv, radio, records and movies were all things patriotic. This was the way things were when the musical PACIFIC OVERTURES arrived at Broadway's Winter Garden theatre. A musical that took a critical look at how the U.S. forced Japan into international trade in 1842... what were they thinking?It didn't look like a Broadway musical. It sure didn't sound like Broadway music. The critics were mixed..a few loved it, several loathed it...but most admitted they didn't quite know what to make of it. Audiences went to see A CHORUS LINE (which would win the 1976 Tony award) and CHICAGO. PACIFIC OVERTURES was gone after 193 performances. The great experiment failed.Or had it?RCA did a cast album. Sales were slow at first but it eventually became one of their biggest sellers allowing more people a chance to hear this wonderful score. Regional theatres began exploring the possibility of doing the show. An off-Broadway revival in 1984 was critically lauded. A new production is planned for New York for 2005. It may never be as big as hit as LEZ MIZ, but for those looking for something different and exciting, PACIFIC OVERTURES will do very nicely.I don't want to give away all the many details of the score: that would rob you of the thrill of discovering so much on your own. But a few "hints": Sondheim has long considered "Someone in a Tree" to be one of his favourite numbers; "Please Hello" is brilliant in weaving together musical styles for the U.S.; England; Holland; Russia & France as each country enters to set up trade with Japan. "Chrysanthemum Tea" has brilliant lyrics (including the lines "If the tea the Shogun drank will serve to keep the Shogun tranquil...") Notice too how the score becomes more "americanized" as it proceeds all the way to the finale "Next."RCA has included a libretto and detailed synopsis. It will take a few serious listens (following along with the libretto) to begin to penetrate this work. Then, once you have fallen in love with it seek out the English National Opera's complete recording on Jay/TER which has the whole show, dialogue and music. It's not as well sung and acted as this original cast disc."
Broadway's most adventurous composer's most unique score
efrex | New York, NY USA | 07/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Stephen Sondheim has spent a lifetime revolutionizing the world of musical theater; combining daring thematic material with unique musical forms and brilliant lyrics. None of his work, however, displays the inventiveness of this show, which combines Japanese Kobuki sensibilities, Americana, and even a brief Gilbert & Sullivan-esque patter song parody to tell the story of America's discovery and eventual cultural co-option of Japan at the turn of the century. The score, which includes the sensational "Someone in a Tree" (where past and present overlap, and the concept of history being a function of its observers is explored brilliantly), the exquisite "Poems" and "Pretty Lady" (whose lovely melody and harmony belie the brutality of its scene), and the moody "Bowler Hat" (in which an entire decade of culural transformation is presented through one singer) combine to create an effect which can only be described as astonishing. Mako and the rest of a cast of unknowns make this cast recording an essential one for anyone who believes that broadway musical theater can be as inventive and challenging as any other form of art."
A neglected masterwork
I. Sondel | Tallahassee, FL United States | 08/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I saw this piece performed at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and have yet to shut-up about it. It is an exquisite piece of theatre - a chamber musical - expertly performed. I have had this album for - well, decades. I've always admired the score. However, now, having finally seen it brought to life, I can't get it out of my mind. This music is the work of a genius. There is no other word for it. Along with "Sunday in the Park with George," this is my favorite Sondheim."