The undergraduate drama department of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts is in rehearsals for an Oct. 14-23 run of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Pacific Overtures, the 1976 musical about Japan's evolution from insular island to industrial giant.
With 10 days before the first performance, four evening shows of the seldom-revived musical are already sold out (Oct. 15, 16, 20 and 23). Ticketbuyers are obviously intrigued by the rare material, which has been freshly approached by librettist John Weidman.
Seldom done in the undergrad setting (indeed, not often revived), Pacific Overtures will be performed by a multicultural student company and will use women in roles that were, in Harold Prince's original staging, played by men in Kabuki drag. In the original, women did appear in the finale, as part of the concept of cultural change. The original cast was of Asian descent.
Weidman (Assassins, Big) is said to be working on new book material for the finale, a musical number called "Next," which fast forwards 150 years of history (1853 to the present). The NYU production uses elements from the original script and the 1984-85 Off-Broadway revival. The original production credits listed Hugh Wheeler (A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd) as writing "additional material."
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the regional theatre director whose credits include musical staging of Off-Broadway's Closer Than Ever, stages the NYU Pacific Overtures revival at the Abe Burrows Theatre, 721 Broadway (at Waverly), on the NYU campus. Ticketbuyers who buy through the box office, at $10 for adults and $5 for students, are limited to four tickets per caller, and a waiting list for sold out shows has started. *
The company includes Elizabeth Bauer, Kim Blair, Ryan K. Brack, Jennifer M. Chang, Jessica Lindsay Cohen, Jonathan Drury, Elizabeth Earley, Jesse Factor, Kathryn Foster, Ben Fox, Amy Frankel, Jared, Gertner, P.J. Griffith, William Hartery, Christianne Knauer, Douglas Kreeger, Michael Langoria, Maiesha McQueen, Shale Marks, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Jessica B. Morris, Katherine Prudente, Lauren Rubin, Daniel Spector, Brandon Tesar, and Jennifer Zetlan.
Musical director is Brian Cimmet. A puppeteer who has worked with Jim Henson Productions is consulting on puppet work. Jamie Guan (M. Butterfly) is the movement consultant.
Pacific Overtures opened on Broadway Jan. 11, 1976, the same season as the flashier Chicago and the sensation, A Chorus Line. The rarefied, Asiatic-influenced musical ran 193 performances and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and earned designers Florence Klotz (costumes) and Boris Aronson (scenic) trophies.
Musical numbers include "Pretty Lady," "A Bowler Hat," "Someone in a Tree," "Welcome to Kanagawa," "Poems," "Chrysanthemum Tea," "Please Hello," "Four Black Dragons" and more.
-- By Kenneth Jones