Opening at the Winter Garden Theater
on January 11, 1976, Pacific Overtures was the fifth show that Stephen Sondheim
collaborated on with Harold Prince
. The original production ran for 193 performances and went on to win Tony Award
s for "Best Costume Design" and "Best Scenic Design."
Pacific Overtures tells the story of Japan's emergence from a small country content in its isolation from the rest of the world to its current position at the the forefront of international politics. The play spans almost 120 years, beginning with Comm. Matthew Perry's initial confrontation with the "Floating Kingdom" in 1853. It chronicles the sacrifices the Japanese people had to make in their social order, customs and dress in order to achieve their current affluence. John Weidman's book set the focus of the show on American imperialism and sought to question the effects of the opening of Japan to Western trade.
Under Prince's direction, the style of the musical was based on the ancient form of Japanese theatre known as Kabuki. Unlike previous Broadway musicals which had only attempted to capture the flavor of the East, Stephen Sondheim's score is an accurate recreation of Oriental music. Ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan style patter songs to metaphorical ruminations on the nature of history, the score places Sondheim's full musical and lyrical repertoire on display.