Friday, June 16, 2017

Pacific Overtures

I am not a fan of John Doyle's, as evidenced in my review of his production of Passion, so I didn't plan to see his production of Pacific Overtures at CSC. But three things changed my mind: (1) a friend saw the show and said that the singing was excellent; (2) the stage had been reconfigured from the CSC's usual awkward layout with its problematic sight lines; and (3) inexpensive tickets became available through the Theatre Development Fund. So I decided to go, just keeping my expectations low.

And I had a wonderful time.

(By the way, if you're not familiar with Pacific Overtures, you can find out more about it here and here.)

This production didn't turn me into a John Doyle fan. I think in many ways it works despite him, rather than because of him. As he frequently does, Doyle performed an emotion-ectomy on the show, removing or bypassing moments that are devastating in most productions. Too much of his staging relies on People. Walking. Very. Slowly. On a whole, the simplicity of the production is both a negative (the costumes, such as they are, don't work; cutting Chrysanthemum Tea is a sin; the cast could be larger; some more scenery and props would be nice) and a positive (it allows the show to be done in an intimate space with the glorious voices barely miked; the show works well without an intermission).

The most important point is that Doyle didn't kill the show as he did, in my opinion at least, Passion, Sweeney Todd, and Company. This Pacific Overtures is genuinely Pacific Overtures, and what a pleasure-gift-wonder it is.

The high point of this production for me, and I suspect for many other people, is "Someone in a Tree." Austin Ku as the boy, Thom Sesma as the old man, and Kelvin Moon Loh as "the part that's underneath" are, well, perfect. My only complaint was that this 7-minute song zips by in about 30 seconds.

Some songs don't fare as well. For example, "A Bowler Hat" lacks the emotional wallop that occurs when it is carefully paired with the sailor's transition into a samurai. Unsupplemented by enticing visuals, "The Advantages to Floating in the Middle of the Sea" is actually kind of boring (I feel like I'm committing a sin calling a Sondheim song boring, but it kind of is). And a nonmusical moment that falls horribly flat is Tamate's suicide, which is barely indicated.

On the other hand, as sung by Ann Harada, "Welcome to Kanagawa" is a total success; in fact, it was the first time I actually enjoyed the song. "Poems" works as a genuine conversation/competition. And although the orchestra is small, it is totally effective (it never hurts to have orchestrations by the reliably brilliant Jonathan Tunick).

Whatever my complaints, and there are many I didn't list here, if the show weren't closing on Sunday, I would gladly see it again.
The cast: Karl Josef Co, Marc Delacruz, Steven Eng, Megan Masako Haley, Ann Harada, Kimberly Immanuel, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, Orville Mendoza, Marc Oka, Thom Sesma,and George Takei.
Book by John Weidman; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; additional material by Hugh Wheeler; directed and designed by John Doyle; music supervisor Rob Berman; music director Greg Jarrett; costume design Ann Hould-Ward; lighting design Jane Cox; sound design Dan Moses Schreier; hair and makeup design J. Jared Janas.
Wendy Caster
(4th row; tdf ticket) 

1 comment:

msdworks said...

Agree with much of what you pointed as a minus. The lack of Japanese period costumes made it less of the spectacle I was eager to enjoy. The walking was annoying. The orchestra was, yes, very good as was the singing.The drama of the story was flattened .... but also agree the stage in the middle was a plus.