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Theatre: Pacific Overtures
The practical bird
having no tree of its own
borrows another's

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.

Examples of tropes appearing in Pacific Overtures:

  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Reciter, at times.
    "Yes, please ignore the man of war that's anchored rather near to shore, it merely is a metaphor that serves as a preventative."
  • 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. In the original production, women do finally appear to signal Japan's new era.
    • Some productions, like the 2004 Broadway revival, are more lenient, however.
  • Opening Chorus: "The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea"
  • Puppet King: Emperor of Japan, when the real power was wielded by the Shogun, is literally played by a Bunraku puppet.
  • Race Lift: Both ways. Traditionally, all roles in the show, even the Western characters are played by actors of Asian descent. 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:

Our TownTheatrical ProductionsPatience

alternative title(s): Pacific Overtures
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