Pacific Overtures is in some ways the quintessential Stephen Sondheim musical. Developed out of a play by librettist John Weidman about the opening of Japan by Admiral Perry in 1853, it has a highly unusual subject matter for a Broadway show. And it treats that subject matter in a highly unusual way: its music owes much to traditional Japanese styles, and it tells its story largely from the point of view of the Japanese. The attempt to break new ground for the Broadway musical is a hallmark of Sondheim's method, and the show's reception is also typical; it was a succès d'estime, much respected by theater lovers but not actually financially successful, with an initial run in 1976 of a mere 193 performances, followed by only occasional revivals, none of them a full-blown Broadway production. But in 2000, Amon Miyamoto directed a version in Japan, performed in Japanese, that was seen by Sondheim and Weidman, who worked to bring it to the U.S. That production did have American performances, but the 2004 Broadway revival mounted as a limited run by the subscription-based Roundabout Theatre Company and again directed by Miyamoto is back in English and features American actors such as B.D. Wong, a Broadway veteran, who stars as the Reciter. On-stage, the revival is much different in appearance from the 1976 version, with the kabuki elements abandoned and a spare stage set. On disc, the differences are less noticeable. The cast album is an excellent rendition of the score, and it is longer than the original, with much dialogue included, which gives a better sense of the storyline. An added treat is "Prayers," a cut song performed by Sondheim and original director Hal Prince during the run-up to the original production, that has been included as a bonus.
Pacific Overtures [New Broadway Cast Recording] Review
by William Ruhlmann