Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Pacific Overtures

Music and Lyrics by Stephan Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by L. Walter Stearns
Music Direction by Eugene Dizon
Choreographers: Alka Nayyar, Wilfredo Rivera, Andrew Waters
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre

Exquisite Production of Pacific Overtures is a Fine Work of Art

Pacific Overtures
Pacific Overtures

Walter Stearns’ decision to cast Pacific Overtures with all Asians was bold making it the first Chicago production to do so. It worked effectively, to say the least! The atmosphere was created with Kurt Sharp’s sliding door set on John Horn’s fine lighting. The players are dressed in gorgeous Japanese kimonos (designed by Carol Blanchard) with authentic wigs and they move with Kabuki movements with Noh theatre elements. The show features terrific musical direction by Eugene Dizon and his orchestra that flawlessly plays Sondheim’s strongly Oriental influenced score. The show is Japan meet Broadway.

Porchlight Music Theatre's Pacific Overtures
Porchlight Music Theatre's Pacific Overtures

Pacific Overtures tells the story—from the Japanese point of view—of the opening of Japan after 250 years of isolation to the Americans and Europeans. Filled with satire and funny moments, Pacific Overtures gives us a glimpse of traditional Japanese cultural that many desperately want to preserve their society from the Western barbarians. This artful musical utilizes Japanese musical styles and tones to tell the story of the emergence of modernity to Japan. Haunting numbers such as “There Is No Other Way,” “Four Black Dragons” and “Welcome to Kanagawa” smartly enhance the Japanese mentality and traditions. Much humor comes from the depiction of the Americans, British, Dutch, Russian and French as clowns in an ode to Gilbert & Sullivan with a patter song and music hall and vaudevillian styles in the hilarious “Please Hello.” pacificovertures2

Broadway veteran David Rhee (as the Reciter) anchors a cast of terrific Asian players that deftly handle the challenging Sondheim lyrics. Danny Bernardo, as Kayama Yesaemon, together with Kent Haina, Jr. as Manjiro and Keith Uchima as Lord Abe were particularly effective. The entire 11 member cast turned in one of the finest ensemble performances seen on a Chicago stage in recent memory. This Kabuki spectacle also contained a wonderful solo dance—“Lion Dance” danced by Chip Payos. The singing was wonderful, the movement and samurai fighting excellent. This show is a work of art with a hauntingly memorable score and colorful characters that you’ll not soon forget. The beautiful staging has a fine variety of songs including the nostalgic “Pretty Lady” sung by three British sailors to a geisha.

Pacific Overtures works best on the intimate stage of the Chicago Theatre Building. Walter Stearns’ production works on all levels and Eugene Dizon’s musical direction could be his finest to date. Porchlight Musical Theatre has mounted a fabulous work of art that unfolds as marvelously entertaining musical. This gem must be experienced to be appreciated.

Highly Recommended
Tom Williams

At the Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL, Call 773-327-5252, tickets $37, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:45, Sundays at 2:30 pm; Special matinee on Thursday, April 23 at 2 pm. running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.

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