New York | 1h 30m | Already closed

Pacific Overtures

From 34 critic and 191 member reviews
Members say: Great singing, Intelligent, Absorbing, Clever, Thought-provoking

About the show

George Takei stars in Classic Stage Company's revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical about a samurai and a fisherman caught up in the westernization of the East. More…

In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry sailed to Japan on a U.S. mission to open trade relations at any cost. The musical tells the story of the profound implications Perry's efforts had on the identity of Japan. With 'Pacific Overtures'—which first premiered on Broadway in 1976—John Doyle continues his highly acclaimed exploration of Sondheim's work, having directed 'Sweeney Todd' and 'Company' on the Main Stem, and 'Passion' at CSC.

1h 30m | Already closed | Classic Stage Company (East Village)


"Doyle is such a wizard, he could probably stage a show on a postage stamp...The stylized performances of a superb Asian-American cast are ideally suited to this minimalist production of one of the great musicals of our time...Spectacle has no place in this production; it’s replaced with intimacy...The close staging also allows each lyric line to ring out with astonishing clarity...Every song seems perfectly pitched to every social atrocity executed in the name of progress." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"By paring the show to its roots, Doyle’s 'Pacific Overtures' makes for altogether terrific theatergoing...By removing the stylistic wall that we have previously viewed the proceedings through, it enhances the dramatic power...At many spots through the evening, you might well notice that your fellow playgoers are positively beaming. Not because the show is full of chuckles; it’s just that it’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s 'Pacific' songs work so magically well." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"This streamlined adaptation, performed with soulful feeling by a small multi-role cast, and told with haunting narrative simplicity, rewards being savored on its own subtle terms...The frugal restraint of the production highlights the delicacy of one of Sondheim's most evocative scores...This is a lovingly mounted staging of a unique show, a sorrowful account of violation, naivety and shattered peace, and a culture clash musical imbued with solemn humanity." Full Review

Musical Theater Review

"If there’s such a thing as minimalist grandeur, director John Doyle achieves it...The talent throughout the company is impressive, creating one grand musical highlight after another...There are times when the condensation of the script makes the narrative challenging to follow, but the drift is always there...The show comes to a strangely abrupt ending...It’s possible, too, that my hopeful expectation that this entrancing show would simply last longer made the finish seem so unkind." Full Review

Simon SEEZ

"A shining example of the concept musical...The handsome but purposefully spare production has such a delicate yet stirring ambiance that I can’t imagine anyone interested in either Japan or the American musical theater not able to enjoy its riches no matter how reduced as it is now in visual spectacle…The ten members of the ensemble are all top-notch…You can’t ask for more pleasure than to find yourself floating in the middle of the sea with Sondheim, Doyle and company.” Full Review

Cabaret Scenes

"A certified winner...Communicates the story of the Westernization of Japan with renewed power and significance...This 'Pacific Overtures' is a shining example of 'less is more.' One of the keys to the success of this production lies in its all-encompassing intimacy, both in feel and in the physical playing space...The ensemble cast are all strong performers who bring superb vocal and acting abilities to the production...Heartstrings will be pulled in a major way." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“Doyle's new production decisively makes the argument for a clear, direct approach…At times it seems like a series of set pieces. But what stunning set pieces!…‘Pacific Overtures’ also contains what are arguably two of the most brilliant sequences in any Sondheim musical...Everyone in Doyle's vocally gifted cast blends into a seamless ensemble…Delicate and tough-minded, a tensile thing of beauty that may at last find a place among Sondheim's major works.” Full Review


"Weidman's book feels incredibly prescient in the context of today, when the political discussion has shifted from right-versus-left to open-versus-closed...John Doyle, who has previously distilled Sondheim in smartly pared-down productions, proves to be the ideal director and set designer for this show that is best presented with elegant simplicity...The sound is magnificently rich in this intimate space...'Pacific Overtures' also benefits from the performance of George Takei." Full Review


“A chance to see a terrific ensemble of actors taken from the New York stage's severely underutilized pool of Asian-American talent…There's no denying the graceful intimacy of the CSC mounting…The whittled-down text may dilute the musical's impact somewhat, but the wit, intelligence and incisive exploration of history's issues are still evident. Rarely is a musical this non-traditional and daring also executed so well, and the CSC company is an expert and engaging group.” Full Review


"For theatergoers willing to indeed put their imaginations to work, this streamlined production will be a rewarding experience...Why shouldn't everyone approach this production with an open mind if Mr. Sondheim approved the cuts and changes needed to whittle his show into a single act...Mr. Doyle's less is more approach is a refreshing change...There's no denying that this is a musically rich, intriguing experience, well worth a trip to the Classic Stage." Full Review


"Pomp and grandiosity have been replaced by simplicity and lucidity in John Doyle’s stunning new production of 'Pacific Overtures'...Doyle has made the story of the Westernization of Japan in the 1850s as clear as a freshly Windexed mirror...Chief among the show’s standouts is the fabulous Steven Eng...While Doyle’s less-is-more approach to the material works most of the time, it doesn’t do justice to the show’s finale 'Next'...So, no one bats 100 percent." Full Review


"Chunks of the talkiest parts of Weidman’s book have been cut, somehow without sacrificing clarity, humor or the complexity of mixed emotions...With little more than the occasional parasol or fan, the tiny but mighty production shows the fascinations and sorrows of modernization and trade...The gorgeous music still mingles the foreign sounds of wooden flutes with Western vaudeville...Questions about progress have seldom felt as authentic." Full Review


"A spare and serene story that seems particularly relevant in a day when nations everywhere are reexamining stances on globalization...'Pretty Lady,' one of my favorite songs from the score, is handled beautifully, with the slaying of British soldiers at song’s end left mostly to the imagination...'Pacific Overtures' is a complicated musical, even by Sondheim standards. But Doyle has shaped a delicate production that’s comparatively easy to parse." Full Review

Epoch Times

"Director John Doyle has done an excellent job here, cutting scenes and songs from the original work to give the story a more streamlined approach, and at times, almost a fluidity. While the result may upset some theatrical purists, what one is left with is something quite intimate and emotionally connected. The cast, many playing multiple roles, is quite enjoyable...An eye-opening delight." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Doyle has maintained this minimalist approach, although he has Jonathan Tunick’s gorgeous orchestrations of Sondheim’s score played by an eight-instrument ensemble...With this spare, stripped-down approach, Doyle has illuminated the relevance of 'Pacific Overtures' 'We live in a time when theatre has a job to do that it hasn’t been doing for a while, and that is to ask the political questions,' says Doyle. His bold production has the vision and clarity to do just that." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Doyle creates lots of imaginative business, such as the precise snapping open and shut of fans by the men playing girl prostitutes in ‘Welcome to Kanagawa’...Doyle's production tears away so many visual elements that it endangers clear comprehension of the book's many transitions in time and place. Following the story without clear markers of character and location puts the onus on the music and lyrics, which, however well-done, are not a sufficient substitute for narrative clarity.” Full Review

The New York Times

"Sometimes-glorious, sometimes-lackluster revival...The lack of clarity that results from a cast of 10 actors playing dozens of characters means that the shock you are meant to feel as Japan hurtles toward a violent modernity is diminished...But...something else is enhanced. The portrait of history as the sum of transactions between individuals who usually seem irrelevant was never as powerful as it is here...So let’s call the screen half full—which, with Sondheim’s songs, is more than enough." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"'Pacific Overtures' has always seemed more of an essay than a musical, thoughtful and probing rather than emotionally engaging. Doyle turns that flaw into a virtue...Every element of this 'Pacific Overtures' allows us to savor the individual moments without demanding more than it is ready to offer...Letting the show flow in stately style from start to finish is revelatory, allowing the musical’s real balance to emerge and the focus to remain on the Japanese point of view." Full Review


"An effective production...Those who know 'Pacific Overtures' and admire the extraordinary 'Chrysanthemum Tea' might want to commit hara-kiri once they hear that Doyle has dropped it...Nevertheless, one must admit that 'Pacific Overtures' has so many assets that even those who love the song might be so swept up in the blissful 90 minutes that they’ll only later realize that they didn’t hear it." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The tone of the play is somewhat pedantic...The resulting evening is a little dull, and the unfamiliar score, while capable of rendering up some gems, is not as satisfying as many other Sondheim compositions...The entire acting ensemble is flat-out excellent, individually possessed of superb musical and acting skills and collectively capable of playing like a tight-knit team...George Takei's droll, assured presence is alone worth the price of admission." Full Review

The Clyde Fitch Report

"An elegantly ritualistic treatment of the musical...Now, the two-act 'Pacific Overtures' runs 90 minutes, no intermission. Thus, the weakening of Japan’s resolve against allowing entry to foreigners feels faster than it should...The austere tunes bear the weight of convincing authenticity, even when they run the risk of blurring into one another after awhile...Performing with the somber affect and measured pace Doyle is after, the cast members are uniformly good and true." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"The tone and scale of the production are enthrallingly intimate, and the simplicity of the presentation means that the gorgeous score stands out in the highest possible relief...The ensemble cast is solidly competent...'Pacific Overtures' didn’t need to be cut by an hour, much less subjected to a politically tendentious rewrite...This revised version works superlatively well in its own way. For all my reservations, I wouldn’t have missed Doyle’s richly involving production for the world." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"George Takei majestically guides us through this unique moment in history, one that is filled with fascinating details and interesting tidbits. But does it make a compelling musical? One wouldn’t think so. But there is an elegance to the storytelling, a lovely culturally pointed design and directing point of view, some beautiful singing, and one can’t deny the Sondheim style...Musically, this piece is lovely and moving and the story being told is a fascinating slice of history." Full Review

Village Voice

"With its reduced orchestra, modest singing style, and low-key spectacle, Doyle’s approach has its strengths. We really hear those dense lyrics; we lean in to appreciate the subtleties of the caste system. But this production, while scrupulously acted, seems to be having a conversation with itself, not the audience. There’s anger and irony in the material that dissipates in Doyle’s hermetic coolness…Mixed though the results may be, this earnest experiment proves the piece infinitely adaptable." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The elusive heart of the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical 'Pacific Overtures' remains missing in action in director John Doyle's truncated Classic Stage Company production...'Pacific's' strengths are, unsurprisingly, musical ones...The intimacy of the setting heightens our awareness of an overreliance on narrative exposition to tell its story...If you can navigate your way past the problems, you will find there is much to enjoy. The cast is uniformly excellent." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Profound, Relevant, Intelligent

See it if John Doyle and Sondheim- a match made in heaven! You want to be entertained intellectually, artistically, and love daring directors

Don't see it if you think Andrew Lloyd Weber is a deep thinker.....NOT.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Great singing, Masterful

See it if you love the work of Stephen Sondheim- this is a scaled down show yet brilliant in every way! altho a condensed version just fantastic!

Don't see it if you dont love great singing and masterful acting!!

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Great singing, Great staging

See it if you have a pulse.This is what PO should always have been.Exciting,funny,tragic,fast paced, great music/orchestrations. Perfection. GO!

Don't see it if you are an idiot. If you like Sondheim, (and if you don't, please go away) this is an absolute must see. Should transfer exactly as is.

Great acting, Great singing, Intelligent, Masterful, Profound

See it if you love Sondheim and want to see one of his masterpieces with a superbly talented cast in a beautifully simple staging

Don't see it if you are not a Sondheim fan - just don't

Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Must see

See it if you enjoy a wonderful ensemble,great singing...of one of Sondheim's best musicals

Don't see it if you don't like sparse staging.

Clever, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Masterful, Must see

See it if A tellingly powerful comment on the transferability of the imperialist mindset on national level in the so-called eurocentric modernity.

Don't see it if This is not for those who just want to be entertained. Its lack of spectacle is however extremely evocative and serves the piece very well.

Also Purists. Get over yourself. This IS a Sondheim show and all the cuts a... Read more Read less

Profound, Must see, Great writing, Great singing, Exquisite

See it if You love Sondheim, innovative staging, exquisite voices

Don't see it if You don't like innovative staging, musicals

Absorbing, Great singing, Entertaining, Must see, Terrific

See it if you love Sondheim, this show, great musicals.

Don't see it if you don't want to see a musical about the 19th century intrusion into Japan by America and European countries.

Delightful, Great acting, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Must see

See it if You love sondheim, john doyle's direction, a great company cycling through characters and/or even the original star trek.

Don't see it if If cats is your kind of musical.

Absorbing, Great singing, Masterful, Exquisite, Must see

See it if You appreciate gorgeous singing, beautiful harmonies, and ingenious staging. A truly intimate and breath-taking production.

Don't see it if If you like opulent musicals. This show is very minimalistic -- almost no props or scenery.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great staging, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if You want to see a rarely performed musical masterpiece.

Don't see it if You have a short attention span.

Absorbing, Clever, Great writing, Relevant, Resonant

See it if history.. Sondheim.. singing.. Sondheim relevance and Sondheim compromise vote... partners 95 my 90 great set

Don't see it if you are a purist and need the original 1974? rendition. many songs cut and now reduced to 90 minutes

Absorbing, Great singing, Great writing

See it if You like a story told through music and lyrics and want to listen and follow carefully to pick up all of the wonderful details and nuances.

Don't see it if You need a full-scale production. This one is beautifully pared down. Don't have to love Sondheim to like this but don't go if you hate him!

Also It's surprising that a play that tackles a cultural invasion of anothe... Read more Read less

Great singing, Great staging, Great acting, Masterful

See it if Sondheim lovers will be thrilled with this kabuki poduction. At first I thought I'd be bored but quickly was brought deep into the show.

Don't see it if If you are on the fence about Sondheim or need a set, this production is not for you.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great staging, Intelligent, Enchanting

See it if You like great Sondheim productions.

Don't see it if You don't like Sondheim.

Absorbing, Great singing, Masterful, Slow, Mesmerizing

See it if You love the Asian aesthetic, Sondheim music and lyrics, inventive staging, and performance art/dance woven in with your theater.

Don't see it if Sondheim rubs you the wrong way and you prefer traditional staging and brisk pacing.

Also Lush Sondheim score contrasts with the spare production; elegantly cho... Read more Read less

Clever, Great singing, Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking

See it if You want great singing combined w/great lyrics. You want to see a story of Japan from an Asian perspective.

Don't see it if You hate Sondheim. You love the original Pacific Overtures & don't want any changes.

Absorbing, Great writing, Riveting, Intelligent, Must see

See it if you're a Sondheim nerd or a fan of John Doyle's Whole Deal (I am both).

Don't see it if you're a big Chrysanthemum Tea fan, as it was sadly cut; you want to hear George Takei sing, because dude was totally lip-synching.

Also Obviously the musical is a little problematic, but it could be SO MUCH... Read more Read less

Great writing, Entertaining, Intelligent

See it if -you are a Sondhead - goes without saying. -you want a Japanese perspective on "globalization" -you want a musical history lesson

Don't see it if -you aren't willing to try a minimalistic production of a large show -you don't care about Japan or international relations

Also On balance, Doyle's minimalistic and shortened production loses more t... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great writing, Great staging, Great acting, Great singing

See it if You love captivating theatre with a damn good story! This is one of the better shows I've seen lately! Run to see this show it'a strong!

Don't see it if You're a die hard patriot and cannot see a show that holds a mirror up to the wrongs that we've done.

Also The set is minimalistic but very well done! And the band is AMAZING!!!

Great staging, Intelligent, Great singing

See it if You are a Sondheim completist, prefer minimalist, less-is-more staging like the director's previous revivals of Company and Sweeney Todd.

Don't see it if You like your musicals staged on a grand scale with casts of thousands and elaborate sets.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Masterful

See it if you want to see a deeper interpretation of Pacific Overtures. Beautifully staged.

Don't see it if you are a Sondheim "purist". A shame "Chrysanthemum Tea" was cut.

Clever, Entertaining, Masterful, Relevant, Unusual

See it if Sondheim fan, John Doyle fan, seeker of creative theater choices

Don't see it if want your mother's musical theater

Great singing, Great writing, Absorbing

See it if you're looking for a Sondheim gem that is rarely produced and ready to be challenged.

Don't see it if are looking for plot.

Delightful, Great singing, Thought-provoking

See it if Great pared back production of an avant-garde sondheim piece. Beautiful Japanese style music in an intimate setting.

Don't see it if You want a big broadway musical ala Les Mis.

Cast & Creatives (21)