Spilling some tea on 'Pacific Overtures'
Last Edit: WaymanWong 10:56 am EDT 06/21/22
Posted by: WaymanWong 10:40 am EDT 06/21/22
In reply to: re: Who would have won the Tony: Chita or Gwen - TheOtherOne 07:04 am EDT 06/21/22

In 1976, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's ''Pacific Overtures'' must've seemed especially bold, to some, and baffling, to others.

A Broadway concept musical about the Westernization of Japan, staged with Kabuki techniques, and an Asian-American cast, where men play the male and female roles (until the final number)? Plus, there were no stars. Is it any wonder audiences and critics were thrown off?

Walter Kerr in the N.Y. Times: ''No amount of performing, or of incidental charm, can salvage 'Pacific Overtures.' [It] is essentially dull and immobile.''

John Simon in the New Leader: ''For tripe and pretentiousness combined, you can go to a contemporary musical, 'Pacific Overtures.' ''

Howard Kissel, my former colleague at the N.Y. Daily News, then writing at Women's Wear Daily, gave it one of its few rave reviews.

Still, it won Best Musical from the N.Y. Drama Critics Circle for 1975-1976. (''A Chorus Line'' won this prize for 1974-75.)

In 1988, I interviewed Mako, its Tony-nominated star, for The Sondheim Review. And he recalled that 1976 was a time when Asian-Americans were not respected as full-time, professional actors and were only called in for race-specific roles. Mako also remembered performing at the 1976 Tonys and walking back to the Winter Garden, in their costumes, only to have passers-by jeer at them: ''Hey, why don't you all go back to China?''

Anyway, it's remarkable that ''Pacific Overtures'' played nearly 200 performances on Broadway and toured L.A. and San Francisco.

It will always hold a special place in my heart because I saw it in S.F., and it began my lifelong affair with theater.

In 1976, it was so rare to see a stagefull of Asian-American performers in a Broadway musical. And in 2022, many decades later, it still is.

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