Members say: Great singing, Intelligent, Absorbing, Entertaining, Clever

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.

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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.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews


"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


"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


“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

Time Out New York

"Boiled down—with all the loss of flavor that implies—to a somber 90-minute procession...Instead of coups de théâtre, this production offers coupures: edits, edits, edits. Gone is much of the material that gave 'Pacific Overtures' levity and texture...Not all is dire. The opening and closing numbers are confusing, but the major middle ones are cleanly handled...Too much of 'Pacific Overtures' is in what Doyle throws away. Striving for lean, he makes the show seem thin." 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

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

AM New York

"Like a bonsai tree that has been pruned with hedge clippers instead of scissors, or a barber shop customer who got too close a shave from Sweeney Todd...Some will find that Doyle brings clarity and intimacy to a challenging work, and others will be angry over the textual omissions or the lack of visuals. Personally, I found the production to be a plain and unexciting affair that, for the most part, drained away rather than enhanced the musical’s impact." 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


"Doyle abjures spectacle, and that’s all well and good. But what’s sacrificed here is not the big effect so much as the bold gesture that underscores the seismic character of the history unfolding through these indelible songs and actions. Trimmed to 90 uninterrupted minutes, it’s diminished, like listening to Beethoven through a transistor radio or looking at the moon through the wrong end of a telescope. It demands a leap of faith to fully comprehend." 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


"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

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

The Wrap

"Doyle has made the inspired choice to cast Ann Harada in a number of roles, and she brings her inimitable wry panache to several scenes...You will appreciate the traditional casting of Megan Masako Haley. She unleashes one of the purist soprano voices to be heard outside an opera house. The male actors, unfortunately, fail to make much of an impression...In addition to Harada and Haley, the other bright spot of this 'Pacific Overtures' is the orchestra." 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

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


"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

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"No matter what you do to Sondheim, his genius shines through...The work emerges as very much of a mood piece simply staged. The score is played beautifully...The singing has a poetic quality, as does the overall mood...And yet this comes across as 'Pacific Overtures' light, a work that begs to be seen in its original scope...But if someone has never attended other productions, seeing this version can be a gratifying experience." 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

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

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Absorbing, Intelligent, Slow, Great singing, Stripped down

See it if you enjoy minimalism as subversion of a classic story, told by a non-white cast & simplified so as to expose conceptual flaws (tho lovingly)

Don't see it if you need an expensive production in order to enjoy sondheim, and great performances are not enough

Intelligent, Disappointing

See it if you want to see the great Sondheim/Weidman musical with some talented people.

Don't see it if you want to see a great PRODUCTION. Once more, edited to death and non-comprehensible if you don't know the show already.

Ambitious, Exquisite, Dated, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if If you like historical pieces about Japan.

Don't see it if Slow plot development

Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing, Great singing

See it if You love Sondheim and want to hear one of his scores lushly sung and performed by a very talented cast

Don't see it if You don't like stripped down staging- while I usually love John Doyle's work, some of it was a little too minimalistic and thus unclear

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if you want to hear Sondheim's rapturous score elegantly sung in a rarely-revived, if stripped down & highly edited, masterpiece.

Don't see it if You're a Sondheim purist. The minimalism distills the show's message & robs the musical of is grandeur. The edits cut the intended impact.

Also Somebody please introduce John Doyle to a set designer, a costume desi... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if you want to see excellent work by an excellent cast

Don't see it if you don't like Sondheim

Ambitious, Intelligent, Profound, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if The Sondheim DNA is unmistakable in music and lyrics; remarkable cast finds the humor, drama and beauty in book and score

Don't see it if Those without interest in Sondheim, foreign culture or history will be bored; relative impersonal nature of book reveals its shortcomings

Intelligent, Masterful, Entertaining, Great singing

See it if You love Sondheim. Gorgeous score

Don't see it if If you don't appreciate Sondheim

Intelligent, Slow, Great singing, Educational

See it if you want to learn something about Japanese history thru artistic and musical presentation; you love Sondheim, spare sets and minimal dress

Don't see it if you expect a full blown musical with bells and whistles. This is minimalist production in many ways, but the music comes through beautifully

Also I came into this never having seen it before and with no expectations.... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Exquisite, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if You like learning about other cultures history and great acting.

Don't see it if You don't like Asian history.

Thought-provoking, Indulgent

See it if You enjoy hearing the music and lyrics of Sondheim. It is rarely performed and should be appreciated more than it is.

Don't see it if Want a full staged production not a whittled down version. Tired of actors in street clothes instead of period costumes.

Banal, Disappointing, Slow, Stripped down

See it if you want 2 C a rarely performed Sondheim musical, stripped down w/o scenery or costumes to 90 minutes telling the story of Japan's isolation

Don't see it if you hate bare staged productions without any props, costumes or scenery and shortened to 90 minutes .

Clever, Enchanting, Intelligent, Quirky, Historical

See it if History lesson set to music. I liked the minimalist staging. The songs were interesting and well performed.

Don't see it if The characters were shallow. There was little dramatic tension. The history wasn't entirely accurate.

Captivating, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Minimalist, Great staging and small stage choreography

See it if you like George Takei, Stephen Sondheim, or innovative musical theater. Superb ensemble cast & musicians. Clever staging and choreography.

Don't see it if you don't like musicals, abridgements, or Sondheim.

Also This is the third time I've seen 'Pacific Overtures,' but the first ti... Read more Read less

Clever, Quirky, Interesting, Entertaining

See it if you enjoy Sondheim and/or Asian themes. You enjoy minimalistic staging and a good ensemble performance.

Don't see it if you need an in-depth story with well-developed characters and detailed staging.

Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging

See it if You enjoy Sondheim and/history.

Don't see it if You wanted to see an unabridged version of the play or an elaborate production.

Clever, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if you like Sondheim, classic musicals, Asian themes, or stripped-down productions. Doyle also makes great use of the minimalistic staging.

Don't see it if you need a strong resolution. The ending of this show felt rushed to me, but that's a larger issue with the book--not the direction.

Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if you would like to see a fresh take on a Sondheim opus. By and large Sondheim's lyrics and poetry come through clearly.

Don't see it if you expect big dance numbers.

Absorbing, Masterful, Slow, Great singing, 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

Ambitious, Enchanting, Great singing, Amazing cast

See it if You love Sondheim, beautiful voices, a little bit of a history lesson

Don't see it if You want a full story arch or character development. This is more of a beautiful and beautifully staged concert

Thought-provoking, Great music, Sparse

See it if you want a quiet history composed by Sondheim. Stripped down, it becomes more about Kayama, and the actor does a great job with that.

Don't see it if you don't like things stripped down, without linear plot. it's a white composer, librettist, and director telling a Japanese story.

Slow, Dated, Good singing, Minimalistic

See it if you are interested in the history of westernization of Japan. The singing is good. The whole feels dated.

Don't see it if you want something modern, edgy and relevant. You enjoy good set - here the staging basically doesn't exist.

Clever, Great acting, Indulgent, Entertaining, Spare

See it if love Sondheim, this particular score or if you love John Doyle's stripped down aesthetic.

Don't see it if you want an elaborate staging or the full score performed.

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

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.

Great acting, Intelligent, Refreshing, Great singing, Great staging

See it if Wish for an intelligent scaled-down production of an overlooked Sondheim musical

Don't see it if Want flash.

Cast & Creatives (21)