We talked with Lisa Yuen, who portrays Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, and Emperor in our upcoming production of Pacific Overtures!
What Lyric Stage shows have you worked on before?
LY: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Into the Woods,
Sweeney Todd, and Kiss of the Spider Woman
What you about of Pacific Overtures?
LY: Spiro Veloudos and music director Jon Goldberg LOVE
Sondheim! They are two of Boston’s most passionate and informed
Sondheim experts and I predict rehearsals to be masterclasses
about one of America’s greatest composers and lyricists.
What challenges you about Pacific Overtures?
LY: Pacific Overtures is commonly touted as Sondheim’s most
ambitious and sophisticated score and that description alone
is a daunting task. Everyone approaches Sondheim’s work with
deep intellect and then as an artist, you are reminded of how well
Sondheim can tap into the complexity of human emotion.
Where do you and The Reciter intersect?
LY: At the role’s heart, The Reciter is a storyteller and I’ve made
a career of being just that. We will be rediscovering the 1976
Broadway classic to its bare essence of storytelling—about
holding onto tradition while trying to be successful with change
and modernization. More importantly, we ask ourselves how
this dichotomy effects the human condition and its relations,
as so excellently portrayed in the development of the roles
of Manjiro and Kayama. I love hearing the role of the Reciter
through a woman’s voice since there are such great themes of
modernization and strength—very timely for now.
The Lyric Stage has always been very generous and has allowed
me to play roles that are not usually played by an Asian female.
The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods was probably my most favorite
Lyric experience. The Baker’s Wife is traditionally played by
a white female but my goodness, the role is a made-up fairy
tale character. Why can’t she be Asian? I remember going to
the callbacks and thinking I should wear glasses so I could
appear to be a stereotypical “smart Asian” and that would be
my take. Fast forward to the actual production, and I lost the
glasses, any sense of racial identity, and just went to the heart
of the role. Most important was her mission to have, love and
protect her family, a mission any ethnicity can relate to. When
Pacific Overtures became a possibility, Spiro surprised me once
again with his progressive vision by casting a woman in a role
that is traditionally played by a man. Spiro knows that these
opportunities are so much greater than just one person, it’s
about opening the audiences’ eyes of inclusivity and ridding
ourselves of unconscious bias.
What excites you about working on a piece that is rarely
revived due to its complexity?
LY: Ha! You ask me this question after my last show at the Lyric
Stage was Kiss of the Spiderwoman, a musical about a homosexual
window dresser, who is serving his third year in an Argentinian
prison. The Lyric Stage is really highlighting the complex musicals
this year and I am in deep and in love with the challenge.
What does it mean to you to be working with an all-Asian
cast? Have you ever had that experience before?
LY: I spent 5 years performing in Broadway’s Miss Saigon,
performed with the national tours of The King and I and Flower
Drum Song, and I have worked with numerous all-Asian casts
regionally. From the first day of rehearsal, there’s usually this
very comfortable, loving, familial sense, like everyone knows
each other, even if we don’t. Boston is rich with talented and kind
Asian American actors and delving deeper into this community
was a great draw for me to want to do this show.
More About Pacific Overtures
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.
“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging. Extraordinary songs!” – NY Times
“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post
About Lisa Yuen, Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor
Lisa Yuen* (Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor) returns to the Lyric Stage having appeared in Kiss of The Spider Woman, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Local credits include: The King and I (North Shore Music Theatre), Ragtime and Mary Poppins (Wheelock Family Theatre), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre by the Sea) and New Rep. Other credits include 7.5 years on Broadway (Miss Saigonand The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.), 4 national tours (The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The Scarlet Pimperneland The Pirates of Penzance), Off-Broadway (Second Stage and York Theatre), Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, regional theatre (including Paper Mill Playhouse, The MUNY, PCLO, and Sacramento Music Circus) and TV/film including 23 episodes as “Rachel” on All My Children, Body of Proof, The Martha Stewart Show, World Trade Center). Brookline mom to twins. B.A. from UCLA. Love and gratitude to Mom, Kevin, family, and friends.