REVIEW: Lyric Stage brings beauty and powerful perspective to Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures’

Surrounded by wild pink cherry blossoms, Lyric Stage reveals a telling story with Stephen Sondheim’s stirring musical Pacific Overtures, a historical production set in 1853 when a mysterious ship drops anchor on Japan’s remote and tranquil island.  Told entirely from Japan’s perspective, it’s an important tale about conflict, betrayal, and the price of progress.

Skillfully directed by Spiro Veloudos, musically-directed by Jonathan Goldberg, and choreographed by Micheline Wu, Lyric Stage presents Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures through June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

Jeff Song and The cast of Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

The Lyric Stage has a knack for surprises.  They take on a variety of shows throughout the season, from contemporary to original productions to traditional musicals, but one thing they all have in common is it is hard to imagine how the show will play out onstage.  Though rarely performed, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is an unpredictable, multi-layered musical that delivers an unforgettable message about power and prosperity.

Between scenic designer Janie E Howland’s hand painted set, the sloping wild pink cherry blossoms, Gail Astrid Buckley’s rich and historically-accurate costumes, and Karen Perlow’s clever light design, Lyric Stage brings to life Japan’s beautiful and increasingly tumultuous landscape.  This show does an excellent job at depicting a sympathetic, humorous, and at times, haunting look of how Japan saw the outside world.

Choreographer Micheline Wu’s reflects Japan’s distinct culture in sharp choreography, integrating samurai tradition while carefully letting a bit of westernization seep in.  Kai Chao as relentless Commodore Perry struts into a patriotic, humorous, and cunning Lion Dance while Wu herself, who also depicts Tamate and other roles, captures Tamate’s raw vulnerability in a fan dance during the reflective number, There is No Other Way.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

The cast of Lyric Stage’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enthusiastically recited by Lisa Yuen, who was last seen on the Lyric Stage as the mesmerizing Spider Woman in Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Yuen delicately balances the tale she tells with a mix of humor and urgency, occasionally stepping into the story itself.  That could be an awkward transition, but it’s one that Yuen takes on with ease.

Carl Hsu portrays Kayama, a quietly conflicted fisherman thrust into the spotlight to solve a seemingly impossible issue.  Hsu’s wistful, soaring vocals reflect his alienation as western culture attempts to take hold in Bowler Hat.  Inquisitive and awestruck, he struggles to adjust to Japan’s seeming future.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

Carl Hsu as Kayama and Sam Hamashima as Manjiro in ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sam Hamashima portrays Massachusetts fisherman prisoner Manjiro, a man with mysterious intentions.  Hamasima and Hsu show low key camaraderie as they improvise together during the number PoemsGary Thomas Ng takes on several roles, but proves to be at his funniest as the Grandmother in the lighthearted number, Welcome to Kanagawa.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, Karina Wen, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Change can be painful.  From a remote, peaceful, self-sufficient island to an economic powerhouse to the home of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has worn many faces and overcame many obstacles.  Pacific Overtures depicts the raw emotion and a sympathetic perspective on what that might have felt like along the way.

Lyric Stage continues Stephen Sondheim’s moving musical, Pacific Overtures through Sunday, June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage’s ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ spins a fascinating web

The Lyric Stage’s powerful musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, proves escape can take many forms.  Much like Kander and Ebb’s previous works such as Chicago and Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman delves into equal parts fantasy through lavish dance numbers and brutal reality as two very different men are cellmates in a Latin American prison.  Directed and choreographed skillfully by Rachel Bertone, Kiss of the Spider Woman is not just a gripping tale about surviving under profoundly dark circumstances, but an emotional journey, keeping the audience guessing to each character’s complex motives.

Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.

What makes this show particularly fascinating is Bertone’s talent for depicting mounting tension, evident between each character who all share some sort of connection.  Lisa Yuen embodies the Spider Woman/Aurora with dark humor and beguiling charm, a presence who sees and knows all as she proclaims, I Do Miracles.  Her haunting vocals are a magnetic presence as she slinks onstage.  Her dazzling, alluring costumes vary from a shimmering, translucent gown to a bright, multi-colored Bird of Paradise.

Lyric Stage - Cuadros, Yuen, Cavazos, Gamble, Baldassaro

L to R: Arthur Cuadros as Gabriel, Lisa Yuen as Aurora, Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Taavon Gamble as Valentin, and Bernie Baldassaro as a prisoner Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage

Portraying the two cellmates are Eddy Cavazos as imaginative, openly gay window dresser Molina and Taavon Gamble as gruff revolutionary Valentin.  Dressed in a bright scarf and silk robe, Molina is often sinking into his own vivid imagination recalling his favorite film star, Aurora (Lisa Yuen). Cavazos portrays Molina as exceedingly optimistic, vain, and wildly dramatic.  However, with an occasional far off glance or a brief, mournful smile, Cavazos also reveals Molina’s palpable loneliness, wearing his heart on his sleeve.  He and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s cherished mother share sweet moments, especially during the number, Dear One and You Can Never Shame Me.

Lyric Stage - Cavazos, Carlisle-Zepeda, Zofia, Gamble

L to R Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s Mother, Katrina Zofia as Marta, and Taavon Gamble as Valentin Photo courtesy of the Lyric Stage

Taavon Gamble is also impressive as proud, indignant revolutionary Valentin, a man of few words.  His stirring number, The Day After That, offers immense insight into Valentin’s visceral strength.  Cavazos and Gamble’s scenes together are riveting, both delivering shrewd and gritty performances.

Lyric Stage - Gamble, Cavazos with prisoners

Taavon Gamble as Valentin (center), Eddy Cavazos as Molina and prisoners

Musically directed by Dan Rodriguez featuring songs ranging from haunting to catchy, Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.