05 February 2015

On Sondheim: Pacific Overtures I

Pacific Overtures is considered a bizarre aberration by some Sondheim enthusiasts. Perhaps it is better understood as a useful midpoint keystone, that gestures both backward toward "Small House of Uncle Thomas" from The King and I--a still astonishing musico-choreographic tour de force, courtesy of Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Robbins--and forward toward the stripped-down exploration found in Sunday in the Park with George.

Pacific Overtures, which examines the forced "opening" of Japan to the West--a Broadway musical theme so fruitful, it was never addressed again--is obsessed with Time and its passing (and, of course, politics), as with the song, "A Bowler Hat," late in the show.

Sidebar: Kodo drummers were incorporated into the pit and improvised every night, leading music director, Paul Gemignani, to comment that the score was never played the same way twice during the whole run. When the Shogun is weak, the tea must be strong.


(picking up a derby)
It's called a bowler hat.
I have no wife.
The swallow flying through the sky
Is not as swift as I
Am flying through my life.
You pour the milk before the tea.
The Dutch ambassador is no fool.
I must remember that.

I wear a bowler hat.
They send me wine.
The house is far too grand;
I've bought a new umbrella stand;
Today, I visited the church
beside the shrine.
I'm learning English from a book:
Most exciting.
It's called a bowler hat.

(bringing out a watch)
It's called a pocket watch.
I have a wife.
No eagle flies against the sky
As eagerly as I
Have flown against my life.
One smokes American cigars.
The Dutch ambassador was most rude.
I will remember that.

I wind my pocket watch.
We serve white wine.
The house is far too small;
I killed a spider on the wall;
One of the servants thought it was a lucky sign.
I read Spinoza every day:
Where is my bowler hat?

(putting a monocle to his eye)
It's called a monocle.
I've left my wife.
No bird exploring in the sky
Explores as well as I
The corners of my life.
One must keep moving with the times.
The Dutch ambassador is a fool.
He wears a bowler hat.

(putting on a pair of glasses)
They call them spectacles.
I drink much wine.
I have a house up in the hills;
I've hired British architects to redesign.
One must accommodate the times
As one lives them.
One must remember that.

(holding up a tailcoat)
It's called a cutaway....

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