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Pacific Overtures The Musical

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by John Weidman, additional material by Hugh Wheeler

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Plot Summary & Audition Tips

List of Characters in Pacific Overtures

Pacific Overtures (1976 Original Broadway Cast) [CAST RECORDING]

Pacific Overtures was an ambitious 1976 musical, set in 1853 Japan. Four Western ships arrive omniously, opening the feudal country to foreign trade and visitors for the first time in 250 years. Some of the Japanese resist the outside invasion, persisting in their ancient feudal tradition, while others embrace the Westerners and assimiliate. Commodore Perry arrives and the Convention of Kanagawa is negotiated. By the end of the play it is the present–and Japan's shoguns and emperors have been replaced by businessmen in three-piece suits.
The play was presented in Kabuki style, with men playing women's parts and set changes made in full view of the audience by men dressed in black. "Pacific Overtures" opened to mixed reviews and closed after six months, yet today the score is widely considered to be one of Sondheim's finest. Built around a quasi-Japanese pentatonic scale, the music contrasts Japanese contemplation ("There is No Other Way") with Western ingeniousness ("Please Hello," "Pretty Lady").

Audition Preparation Suggestions

The music in Pacific Overtures is challenging and your audition song should demonstrate your full vocal capability.

This show has mostly male roles.

Experience with Kabuki or Japanese theatre/manners/dance would be a considerable asset when auditioning for this show.

RECITER (Baritone)
A traditional figure from Japanese theatre who guides us through the nation's developments from "Nippon, the floating kingdom" to today's business powerhouse. From time to time, he throws off his reciter's robes and plays other parts, such as the Shogun ruling lord of all Japan; and later Emperor Meiji. Performer must have great energy, range, & emotion.
A minor samurai chosen by the Shogun to repulse Commodore Perry and the unwanted foreigners. As the play progresses, he rejects almost all native customs and becomes more and more westernised.
A commoner, a fisherman who has been to America, and, in dramatic contrast to Kayama, immerses himself in the values of old isolationist Japan even as western influences are swamping the nation.
LORD ABE (Baritone)
First Councillor to the Shogun and the most illustrious Japanese dignitary to participate in the negotiations with Commodore Perry.
A Commodore in the US Navy whose landing at Kanagawa on 14 July 1853 ends Japan's historic separation from the modern world.
Just as the Shogun had his own father strangled, so his mother, impatient at his indecision towards the Americans, eventually moves against him. Like the other female parts in the play, she is played by a man.
Wife to Kayama
Member of the Shogun's Court
Chorus and Smaller Roles: 12M/9F who play a variety of roles (original was performed by an all male cast):
Also: 2nd & 3rd Councillors To The Shogun, 2 Observers, 1st &; 2nd Officers of the USS Powhatan, Soothsayer, Companion, Wife, Priests, Madam &; 4 Geishas, Old Man, Boy, An Admiral apiece from the American, British, Dutch, Russian &; French Navies, 2 Lords of the South, 3 British Sailors, 4 Assassins, A Fisherman, A Merchant & His Family, A Thief, A Warrior, The Emperor's Court, A Storyteller, A Fencing Master & His Daughter, Sumo Wrestlers, Palanquin Bearers, Samurai, Townspeople, Rickshaw Pullers, Contemporary Japanese Men & Women & American Sailors

Related Websites

Audition Preparation Materials

List of Songs in Pacific Overtures

  • The Advantages Of Floating In The Middle Of The Sea (Reciter, Company)
  • There Is No Other Way (First Observer, Second Observer)
  • Four Black Dragons (Fisherman, Thief, Reciter, Townspeople)
  • Chrysanthemum Tea (Mother, Wife, Soothsayer, Priests, Samurai, Sumo Wrestlers, Physician)
  • Poems (Manjiro, Kayama)
  • Welcome To Kanagawa (Madam, Girls)
  • March To The Treaty House (Orchestra)
  • Someone In A Tree (Old Man, Reciter, Boy, Warrior,)
  • Please Hello (American Admiral, Abe, British Admiral, Reciter, Dutch Admiral, Russian Admiral, French Admiral)
  • A Bowler Hat (Kayama)
  • Pretty Lady (Three Sailors)
  • Next (Company)

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