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The practical bird
having no tree of its own
Pacific Overtures is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, with additional material from Hugh Wheeler. It tells the story of Japanese westernisation through the lives of two friends, Kayama and Manjiro. The play is told through a mix between Broadway and Kabuki theatre.
The play begins with the reciter commenting on Japan's peaceful and unchanging way of life. However, President Fillmore wishes to trade with the Japanese, and thus sends warships to the shores of Okinawa. The Americans arrive, give generous donations and leave. This paves the road to more and more trade with foreign powers, resulting in Japan becoming more and more western. Eventually, the Emperor Meiji decides to seize control and officially modernise Japan.
The show opened to mixed reviews and is very rarely performed, but is considered one of Sondheim's most underrated works.
- Bittersweet Ending: Japan springs, thriving into the twentieth century, but at the cost of centuries of culture.
- Book Ends: The reciter opens and closes the show with the line "Nippon: The Floating Kingdom", showing how much the nation has changed over the course of the play.
- Driven to Suicide: Tamate.
- Flaunting Your Fleets: "Please Hello" (though the actual fleets are offstage).
- Gender Bender: It being Kabuki, all womens' parts are played by men.
- Some productions are more lenient, however.
- Opening Chorus: "The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea"
- Race Lift: The show is traditionally done with a cast consisting entirely of asian or asian-American actors. When the English National Opera performed and recorded it, however...
- Troperiffic: "Please Hello" tries to utilise as many western tropes as it can to make it stand out in the otherwise eastern show. The number alone includes:
- American Accents: The American Admiral is expected to give an exaggerated one.
- Camp: The admirals act like this to clash with the secluded dignity of the Japanese.
- Engrish: Used on purpose, even by the English speaking ones, to make the admirals seem more foreign.
- Funny Foreigner
- Husky Russkie: The Russian Admiral.
- Overly Long Gag: "Don't touch the coat!"
- Patter Song: The British Admiral's part.
- Spot of Tea: The British Admiral offers this.
- Take That: The British Admiral's part was one directed at WS Gilbert.