Pacific Overtures

Musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, with additional material by Hugh Wheeler. 1853. Nippon. A small remote island 'floating in the middle of the sea'. Commodore Matthew Perry leads an American expedition that changed this ancient kingdom's way of life forever. These events are told through the friendship of a samurai and a fisherman as they struggle with Western and traditional influences. Pacific Overtures is a glorious theatrical fusion of Japanese Kabuki, Noh theatre and the musical styles of the West. It features one of Sondheim's most lyrical scores including 'Someone in a Tree' and 'Pretty Lady'.

Original London Production (Coliseum) 1987

London Revival (Donmar Warehouse) 2003

Stephen Sondheim's musicals include A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Gypsy, Follies, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Saturday Night, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story and the musical compilation show Side by Side by Sondheim.

Original London Production (Coliseum) 1987

Opened 10 September 1987, Closed 26 November 1987 (in repertory) at the London Coliseum

The cast featured Richard Angas, Leon Berger, Christopher Booth-Jones, Edward Byles, John Cashmore, Gordon Christie, Ian Comboy, Graham Fletcher, Terry Jenkins, John Kitchiner, Simon Masterton-Smith, Harry Nicoll, Malcolm Rivers, Eric Roberts, Michael Sadler, Paul Strathearn, and Alan Woodrow. Directed by Keith Warner with choreography by David Toguri, sets by Ralph Koltai, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca and lighting by Nick Chelton.

London Revival (Donmar Warehouse) 2003

Previewed 20 June, Opened 30 June 2003, Closed 6 September 2003 at the Donmar Warehouse

Presented by the Donmar Warehouse as a co-production with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Featuring an all-male cast of ten.

The cast featured Joseph Anthony-Foronda, Kevin Gudahl, Richard Henders, Togo Igawa, Cornell John, Teddy Kempner, Richard Manera, Ian McLarnon, Jerome Pradon and Mo Zainal. Directed by Gary Griffin with sets by Daniel Ostling, costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, lighting by Hugh Vanstone and sound by Nick Lidster.

"July 1853. Japan has been closed to foreign influence for 250 years, and has stagnated into a tense feudal society of rigid rituals. When Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy appears in Uraga harbour, demanding passage and navigation rights for American vessels, Japan is thrown into a panic. Stephen Sondheim show what happens next in a series of vignettes, all from different perspectives. The quality is varied - there is an amusing number in which the geishas prepare to do business, for example, and America, Britain and France make their demands in hilarious musical parodies of Sousa, Gilbert and Sullivan and Piaf... Gary Griffin's production uses Kabuki elements - an all-male cast in black robes, a very spare set, wild vocal exaggerations and stylised theatrical rituals - to tell the story. But because the rituals are slow there are some problems. The cast is mostly excellent and Mark Warman's music direction, which mixes sounds of the East and West, is absolutely spot on." The London Metro

"On a completely bare pinewood stage a fine troupe of players act out this cultural cataclysm with such skill that the production remains highly accessible. This is a triumph for Sondheim's stunningly clever lyrics. This co-production between the Donmar and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is performed with enthusiasm by a cast from both sides of the Atlantic... The story is told from the Japanese point of view, with the invaders being parodied in caricature form. But while Japan's traditionalists lament the passing of their ways, their sage Emperor advises: 'We must appease the Westerners until we have learned the secrets of their power and their success.' They did just that. And in a world of Sony and Seiko it's clear that domination is achieved by business not armies. A musical that makes you think about such matters is a rare thing - but worth the effort." The Daily Mirror

"It is nothing if not clever, written with an artfulness that marks Sondheim's decisive move beyond the world of the conventional musical. There are times when it trips over its own tricksiness. At once pastiche-Japanese and desperately ironic, it offers a Wertern attempt (sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical) to imagine Japanese reactions to the incursion of the West - and we often wonder quite where this leaves us... I found the underlying message (American imperialism bad) fairly simplistic. The opening up of Japan surely ought to provoke more ambivalent feelings. Fortunately there are individual numbers in the show which remind you how good Sondheim can be - the macabre Chrysanthemum Tea, for instance (it is laced with poison), and Pretty Lady (a ballad about the sad mutual incomprehension of a Japanese girl and three Western sailors). The Donmar production, directed by Gary Griffin, does justice to such moments, and features some strong performances. But it also frequently guys Japanese accents and gestures, in a coarse manner which Sondheim can surely never have intended." The Sunday Telegraph

Pacific Overtures in London at the Donmar Warehouse previewed from 20 June 2003, opened on 30 June 2003 and closed on 6 September 2003