(Jess Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/4; via Pam Green.)
Stephen Sondheim says that a major inspiration for “Pacific Overtures,” the 1976 musical now being revived at Classic Stage Company, was a three-panel Japanese screen he saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nearly two-thirds of it was blank. How could so much beauty explode from so much emptiness?
John Weidman, who wrote the musical’s book, says that, for him, the idea was born in an East Asian history class at Harvard. Why had he never been taught about America’s brutal “opening” of Japan and its consequences?
Though pointing in different directions, both questions shaped the show that resulted. Viewed one way, “Pacific Overtures” is a chronicle, stuffed with real names and documentary evidence, of the arrival of American warships at Uraga in July 1853, and what came after. At the same time, it is one of the most startling artworks ever created for Broadway: a series of panels stripped as bare as possible so the whole may flower with feeling.
Photo: Classic Stage Company