Pacific Overtures Description
Release date: 1976.
Type: Broadway musical.
Pacific Overtures is a musical written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman. The show is set in 1853 Japan and follows the difficult Westernization of Japan, told from the point of view of the Japanese. In particular, the story focuses on the lives of two friends caught in the change.
The title of the work is drawn directly from text in a letter from Admiral Perry addressed to the Emperor dated July 7, 1853.
In addition to playing on the musical term "overture" and the geographical reference to the Pacific Ocean there is also the irony, revealed as the story unfolds, that these "pacific overtures" to initiate commercial exploitation of the Pacific nation were backed by a none too subtle threat of force
Built around a quasi-Japanese pentatonic scale, the music contrasts Japanese contemplation ("There is No Other Way") with Western ingenuousness ("Please Hello"). The score is generally considered to be one of Sondheim's most ambitious and sophisticated efforts.
The original Broadway production of Pacific Overtures in 1976 was presented in Kabuki style, with men playing women's parts and set changes made in full view of the audience by people dressed in black. It opened to mixed reviews and closed after six months, despite being nominated for ten Tony Awards.
Given the unusual casting and production demands, Pacific Overtures remains one of the least-performed musicals by Stephen Sondheim. The show is occasionally put on by opera companies.