×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Pacific Overtures’ Starring George Takei

With:
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, George Takei.

Director John Doyle is such a wizard, he could probably stage a show on a postage stamp. The stage at Classic Stage Company is larger than that — as reconfigured for this Off Broadway house, the playing space for Stephen Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures” unfurls like a Japanese scroll, creating a ramp that runs the length of the theater.  The stylized performances of a superb Asian-American cast — including George Takei — are ideally suited to this minimalist production of one of the great musicals of our time. 

Theatergoers who treasure their memories of the opulent production originally staged on Broadway by Harold Prince will have to pack those memories away. Spectacle has no place in this production; it’s replaced with intimacy. By seating the audience on both sides of the ramped stage, Doyle creates the enchanting illusion that John Weidman’s historically faithful book and Sondheim’s magnificent score are literally unfolding from the pages of an ancient manuscript.

The close staging also allows each lyric line to ring out with astonishing clarity. And for all the beauty of Sondheim’s Asian-inflected music, the lyrics are especially arresting. The evocative voice of George Takei as the Reciter introduces us to the Floating Kingdom that was Japan in 1853, an island empire that for centuries had lived in peaceful isolation. The dreamy melody and languorous lyrics of the opening song that follows — “In the middle of the world we float / In the middle of the sea / The realities remain remote / In the middle of the sea” — are hypnotically seductive.

The minimalist style extends to the costuming (by Ann Hould-Ward), which uses striking pieces — a flutter of fans, a tissue-thin paper umbrella, the sweeping stole of a silken kimono — to suggest the actual garment. Jane Cox’s lyrical lighting design and Dan Moses Schreier’s soundscape are equally suggestive. In the same way, the wisp of a nine-piece ensemble under the musical direction of Greg Jarrett hints at a symphonic orchestra. If Japanese artists have taught us nothing else, it’s the scope of the unfettered artistic imagination.

Aside from Takei’s riveting Reciter, our hearts want to follow Steven Eng as Kayama, the young functionary chosen to greet the terrifying visitors in the big black warships, and Megan Masako Haley as his lovely, faithful wife, both of them committed to their national traditions. “The eye sees, the thought flies” is their unbearably tender love duet, the lyrics as spare and polished as a haiku.

A versatile cast double and triple in roles played on Broadway by considerably more actors. Still, there are some standouts. Like Thom Sesma as the Old Man and Austin Ku as the Young Boy who remember (“Someone In a Tree”) spying on the historic moment when Admiral Perry landed on Japanese soil.  And Kelvin Moon Loh as the comic Russian Admiral (in “Please Hello”) who issues a warning (“Don’t touch the coat!”) to anyone bedazzled by his uniform.

Even more memorable, surely, is the sad song, “It’s Called a Bowler Hat,” sung by Steven Eng, that marks the final surrender of the Japanese lured by material goods the foreign powers brought to their peaceful little island in the middle of the sea. Sadder yet is lovely Megan Masako Haley, cowering under her parasol as the hairy sailors serenade her with “Pretty Lady.”

In this highly articulate score, every song seems perfectly pitched to every social atrocity executed in the name of progress. In Sondheim’s eyes, the western nations didn’t woo Japan — they raped it.

Off Broadway Review: 'Pacific Overtures' Starring George Takei

Classic Stage Company; 199 seats; $72 top. Opened May 4, 2017. Reviewed April 28. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Classic Stage Company production of a musical in two acts with book by John Weidman, music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with additional material by Hugh Wheeler.

Creative: Directed & designed by John Doyle. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; music supervision by Rob Berman; music director, Greg Jarrett. Costumes, Ann Hould-Ward; lighting, Jane Cox; sound, Dan Moses Schreier; production stage manager, Melanie J. Lisby.

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, George Takei.

More Legit

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

  • Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic

    Actor Anthony Ramos Signs With Republic Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Singer-songwriter and actor Anthony Ramos, known for his roles in “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born,” has signed with Republic Records, the company announced today. Ramos will release his forthcoming debut album later this year, with new music expected this summer. Footage from the signing aired on his YouTube series today. “Anthony is a true [...]

  • Much Ado About Nothing review

    Shakespeare in the Park Review: Danielle Brooks in 'Much Ado About Nothing'

    The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park productions can be provocative, irritating, enlightening or maddening, but they are always fun. In his new staging of “Much Ado About Nothing” with a cast led by Danielle Brooks, director Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun,” “American Son”) delivers the fun in a slaphappy, dance-crazy version [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content