We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, Pacific Overtures!
Why Pacific Overtures?
It’s one of the final major Sondheim musicals that I haven’t done (Passion and Merrily We Roll Along are the others.) As we are taking a hiatus from Sondheim musicals, Overtures seems fitting. In addition, its book was written by John Wiedman. I have directed the other two plays written by him with Mr. Sondheim (Assassins and Road Show), so with Overtures I close the circle that started in 1998 with our now famous production of Assassins.
Why at The Lyric Stage?
For the last 20 seasons, The Lyric Stage Company has made a “cottage industry” out of taking musicals that were originally conceived on a large scale and boiling them down to their essence (My Fair Lady, Kiss Me, Kate and Gypsy to name a few.) Overtures had one of the largest casts in its original production. We will scale that down to 11 or 12 without sacrificing this story of the effect of American Imperialism (along with several other western countries) upon Japan, which had isolated itself in 1600 (as described in the opening number).
While it would be capricious to compare America’s current actions in foreign affairs to Millard Filmore’s “Gunboat Diplomacy” of 1853, American military influence in many areas (such as the Mideast, Viet Nam, and Korea) might bear comparison. The foisting of the “American Dream” on countries or areas of the world that might not be appreciative of it, and the sometimes tragic consequences of those actions (especially a little over 8 months after the evacuation of Saigon, when Pacific Overtures opened) might have had an influence on the writers. Whether it is opening trade, saving the world from Communism, or just preserving America’s need for oil, Pacific Overtures shines a light on the folly that is sometimes called American foreign policy.
More about Pacific Overtures:
Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan through gunboat diplomacy forges an unlikely friendship between the samurai, Kayama, and the Americanized fisherman, Manjiro. The two of them – and all of Japanese society – must face the wave of Westernization that follows. Spiro Veloudos puts a cap on his multi-year Sondheim Initiative with this startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece.
“Mr. Sondheim’s songs are complete miniature dramas, loaded and compressed to a profound intensity.” – New York Times