Virginia’s Signature Theatre has a history of producing Stephen Sondheim musicals. This season they have chosen to mount Pacific Overtures and it is the last Sondheim musical that will be performed in its old space. With music and lyrics by Sondheim and the book by John Weidman, Pacific Overtures explores western culture’s penetration of Japan. The piece reflects the Japanese point of view and it shows a change in their way of life.
In the past, the show has been performed with Asian actors. This production features a Caucasian cast made up of eight men and two women. The men take on several of the female roles and the women portray a number of the men. For the most part, the cast handles the material quite well. However, the production falls short. The directing is uneven and the less than stellar quality of the wigs and makeup is distracting.
Donna Migliaccio is strong as the Reciter. She has a dynamic stage presence that comes through from the start. Signature alum Will Gartshore plays Kayama. Those familiar with Mr. Gartshore may be hard pressed to recognize him in this role. It is not just the makeup and costume that disguise him, it is whole demeanor. He totally embodies this character. Additionally, he plays off Daniel Fenton (Manjiro) extremely well. The two are especially good during "Poems". Two standouts in this cast are Michael Bunce as Shogun’s Mother and Thomas Adrian Simpson as the Russian admiral. Both give memorable and very amusing performances.
The set design is made up of a wooden platform. Bamboo poles line the back of the stage. The design is simple but it works and makes good use of Signature’s intimate space.
A mention should be made of Jon Kalbfleisch’s excellent musical direction. Sadly, his skill is not enough to make Pacific Overtures fully satisfying. Those who are only concerned with listening to a wonderful score possibly will enjoy this production. However, those hoping for an outstanding theatrical experience may leave feeling a bit cold.
The Signature Theatre
Cast: Michael Bunce, Matt Conner, Steven Cupo, Daniel Felton, Will Gartshore, Channez McQuay, Donna Migliaccio, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Stephen Gregory Smith, Harry A. Winter