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Pacific Overtures Soundtrack, Import

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD (17 Jan. 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Soundtrack, Import
  • Label: PS CLASSICS
  • ASIN: B0009299J2
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,541 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Having seen the original, large scale 1976 Broadway production and a second, more intimate off-Broadway production in the mid '80s, I have a particular affection for this touching musical. This latest version, again on an intimate scale, includes more musical content than that offered on the CD of the original production. The new production offers a first rate cast, with B.D. Wong (who created the title role in M.Butterfly in its Broadway premiere) as The Reciter. The cast, along with a reduced, but effective orchestration, all make for a very atmospheric presentation.

The plot deals with the 1853 arrival of Commodore Perry from the U.S.A, who is anxious to open trade communications with a Japan that has been isolated from western influences for the previous 250 years. The Americans are followed by British, Dutch, French and Russian negotiators, all anxious to secure influence in "Nippon, The Floating Kingdom". As the play unfolds, the audience is witness to the gradual erosion of the ancient Japanese culture.

Sondheim's music opens with a traditional Japanese chant and the music becomes more westernised as the play progresses.
An amusing point number sung by a madam and her girls to drum up business exhorts the American sailors in "Welcome to Kanagawa", and a touching trio of British sailors sing the sad little "Pretty Lady" Along the way, we hear some modern Haiku, the pithy, but wisdom infused poetry culminating in the very up-tempo finale, "Next".

By the time we reach this finale, modern Tokyo is revealed as a modern, jazz influenced, motor cycle jacketed, neon lit, American influenced metropolis. A truly thought-provoking musical.
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Great product. Very nice addition to collection
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x98a5c59c) out of 5 stars 18 reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98a59fd8) out of 5 stars A Masterpiece that deserves better. 11 May 2005
By Baron Saturday - Published on
Format: Audio CD
"Pacific Overtures", Sondheim and Weidman's epic masterpiece, has always deserved to be appreciated, and the recent revival certainly had potential to finally be praised by critics and enjoyed by audiences. Unfortunately, as this recording shows, the limits of the production makes one wish for more.

Sondheim's beautiful and complex score is watered down in order to be performed by an extremely small orchestra (only 11 musicians), causing this recording to pale in comparison to the original cast recording. While the cast is excellent (B.D. Wong's voice is excellent and he does a great job as the Reciter), often performing far better than the original, the instrumentation does not even come close to the lush and textured performance of the original. The pulsing and tense percussion and strings of "Four Black Dragons" is now played by a piano, which simply cannot capture what I believe to be Sondheim and Tunick's original intentions.

Even so, this CD is a must for any Sondheim fan. The songs are incredible, almost all of which have a distinct Japanese feel despite being very accessible. The CD, like the recent recording of the revival of "Assassins", is more complete than the original cast recording, and includes the lovely song "Prayers" as a Bonus track as well as some dialogue to better connect the songs.

"Pacific Overtures" is a masterpiece, to be sure, but one that needs a far better recording.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98a5a048) out of 5 stars An Interesting but Troubled Adaptation of a Fascinating Show 15 July 2005
By Steven Nydick - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I love this show; it's incredibly unusual. Sondheim generally uses his score to enhance or support the plot and meditative idea that his shows surround. In Sweeney Todd, Sondheim played with the Dies Ire harking back to horror and death and revenge; in Assassins, Sondheim had the infamous killers singing an assortment (pastiche) of American songs, representing the time and style of music performed during each of their lives; in Sunday in the Park with George, Sondheim used little parts of melodies for different pieces of the painting, which all came together for the grand, luscious finale of each act. Similarly, in Pacific Overtures, Sondheim tried to take an Eastern approach to melody and lyrics at the beginning of the show (the first several songs lack many romanticized words) while transforming the melodies into an assortment of western styles by shows end (along with many romanticized words). This has the effect of giving the audience a pristine, almost elysian, feeling of a secluded culture that becomes taken over, both in actual dialogue and musical style, by a western influence.

This particular recording (as well as the version of the show, which I saw last December) works in some areas and fails in some areas. The orchestrations are severely lacking, using a lesser number of instrumentalists, which works for the beginning of the show but should probably be changed by shows end. Instead of western, romantic orchestrations surrounding "Please Hello" and "Pretty Lady," we have a similar number of musicians to "Chrysanthemum Tea" and "Four Black Dragons," which, I don't think, supports the idea of the music; conversely, the original recording had enough musicians for the last several songs but probably had too many at the beginning of the show.

Second, the acting, or singing excelled in certain songs and crumbled in others. The best parts of the show came during "Welcome to Kanagawa," which had more humor than the original, and "Pretty Lady," which captured the pathos (of both the soldiers and the girl; still, it's the prettiest song about prostitution that has ever been written) better than the original. However, what just about ruined this recording to me was the verbal destroying of one of my favorite lyrical songs in the entire show, "Please Hello." The person who performed the British Admiral botched many of his lines while singing in a semi-slandered British Accent.

Overall, unless you can get your hands on the English National Opera doing most of the book and score, I would recommend this CD because it encapsulates the closest feeling to the show and understanding of the show without actually having the fortunate ability to see the show. Similar to the PS classics Assassins album, they include a marvelous booklet, and several transitional scenes, along with more in-scene dialogue than the original cast recording. However, I would not take this recording anywhere near definitive, and if the idea of the show strikes you as interesting or worth pondering further, I would listen to several more recordings, hopefully see a production or two, and/or buy the libretto so I could interpret the show my own way.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98d237c8) out of 5 stars A must-have recording of a Sondheim masterpiece 8 Jun. 2005
By Steven Valenti - Published on
Format: Audio CD
"Pacific Overtures" just may be Stephen Sondheim's best score, after "Sweeney Todd." He hits a bullseye with every song, and at least three of them-- "Chrysanthemum Tea," "Someone in a Tree," and "A Bowler Hat" are surely among his finest achievements ever. In their dramatic impact, evocative melodies, and meticulous lyrics, these three are standouts in what is really a score chock-full of standouts.

Even for a composer known for unlikely subject matter, "Pacific Overtures" ranks as one of Sondheim's most original and daring scores. In conveying the westernization of Japan, from the nineteenth century to present day, his music contains a lot of Asian influences, gradually growing more and more western-sounding as it goes on. The narrative is nontraditional, featuring a Reciter and a series of vignettes that convey a sense of history and the impact of cultures clashing. The result is one of the most unique musicals you'll find. To me, Sondheim is at his best when he writes scores like this-- totally removed from the upper-class angst and showbiz razzle-dazzle of his more celebrated shows.

This recording is of the Broadway revival, so comparisons to the original recording are inevitable. One thing to note right away: the orchestra here is a lot smaller than the original. That's not such a bad thing. The lush sound is certainly nice on the original, but for the most part, this one comes across perfectly fine. In fact, I'm not sure a huge orchestra is necessarily needed for this musical-- the orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, who also did the original orchestrations, has done a great job of creating new and effective orchestrations for a smaller number of players. At times, there's an added emphasis placed on just a few instruments, and the spareness actually makes the Asian sounds even more prominent. It feels perfect for a show that depends much upon the oral tradition of storytelling.

In other ways, this recording more clearly improves on the original. First, it's significantly longer, and contains more dialogue and transitional material that makes it flow a lot better. Second, the quality of the performers is better overall. Headed by B.D. Wong as the Reciter, the singing and level of performance on this recording is strong. On the original, some of the singing seemed off-- sort of flat and lifeless. Here, the singing comes across with more precision, and it really makes Sondheim's music shine. There are also a lot of little improvements that I think were good choices: additional women performers, tempos sped up a bit here and there, updated lyrics on "Next," a much-needed reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other little details, like an added presence of the figures surrounding the Shogun in "Chrysanthemum Tea." All these particulars make this recording of "Pacific Overtures" a must-have for any musical fan, whether you have the original recording or not.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98a5a2d0) out of 5 stars The Best "Overture" of All 29 Jun. 2006
By Music Man - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The recent Broadway revival of "Pacific Overtures" had a relatively short 3-month run. A few months later, this wonderful CD was inexplicably released to the surprise of enthusiastic Sondheim fans, but it's really a must have for anyone interested in musical theater. The show's reviews were mixed, which makes one wonder how much that has impacted the reception of this recording, which was nominated for a Grammy as best cast recording and deserved to win.

Alright, let's dispense with the main objections. No, the orchestrations aren't nearly as fleshed out as the originals. And yes, there's a lot more dialog on this recording. Both of these, however, ultimately make this CD a more modern and listenable recording than the original. To begin with, as has been acknowledged in the past, it was difficult to get enough Asian actors for the original production with the vocal skills to do the score justice. Because of that, some of the songs did not soar the way they were meant to. "Overtures" is one of Sondheim's best but most delicate scores and the stirringly lush and burnished Jonathan Tunick orchestrations of the original tended to make them the focal point of the recording. No problem here. On this recording, much of the orchestration uses authentic Asian instruments, adding a lighter but more exotic flavor. The fact that the orchestrations are leaner means the vocals are more up front, and that is the blessing of this recording.

BD Wong may not have the gravitas of Maku, but his singing is significantly better and his interpretation is more of a genial escort than an angry overlord - a different interpretation, but no less valid. He also nails "Floating in the Middle of the Sea," "Next" and his part in the quartet of "Someone in a Tree." Has anyone noticed that Mr. Wong is a musical theater performer of the first degree?

Telly Leung shines in three different numbers as three different characters. His "There is No Other Way" is exquisite, but is topped by his euphoric and youthful "Someome in a Tree." That quartet has been problematic for some performers, but Leung and his companions, including Wong and Alvin Lee, run with it and it's exhilirating. His lead on "Pretty Lady" is both youthful and oblivious, giving the character the correct vacuous hole to leap in to. Mr. Leung is an exquisitely flexible tenor who is able to embue his characterizations with soul and heart. Let's hope he will find more, and more fully realized, opportunities in his future on Broadway.

Alvin Ing is again cast as the Shogun's Mother, and he gives another quitessential performance during "Chrysanthemum Tea", which is at times sardonic, ironic and hysterically funny. He is also a force to be reckoned with in "Someone in a Tree". Whoever's idea it was to recast him deserves a special Tony. In addition, Sab Shimono makes a return appearance from the original cast and, while his contributions are less apparent, the history and clarity he brings to his moments are deservedly cherished.

Finally, a word must be said for Michael K. Lee. He brings machismo, doubt and sensitivity to his role as Kayama, and his singing is almost comparable to Telly Leung. "A Bowler Hat" is his showcase and his performance is both nuanced and ironic, with his singing very well placed.

It's inexplicable that this revival did not run longer than its three short months, and this recording attests to the fact that there were many talented Asian - Phillipino - American actors at the height of their game during this glorious production. Thankfully, we have this gourgeous CD to return to time and again, if only as a testiment to a time when Broadway got it right, but the critics got it wrong. There is no other way.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98a5a510) out of 5 stars Buy The original 1976 Soundtrack 9 Mar. 2006
By E. Aharon - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Pacific Overtures, is one of Sondheim's most delicately beautiful and entrancing pieces. The poetry of the culture, being penetrated by an outsider, is portrayed so beautifully and richly in this score.

That is why I advise you to get the original 1976 Broadway Soundtrack. It is far more superior, in almost every aspect. Especially evident, is the sized-down orchestra in this recording. Jonathan Tunich's and subsequently Sondheim's music, deserve a better and larger orchestra than the one featured on this cd. The performances in the original are far more intriguing and involving.

If you don't yet know this piece, and are thinking of buying this recording as an introduction- don't! It's such a waste. A first impression cannot be returned, and you should have the best first impression of this amazingly beautiful and piercing piece of musical theater.

If you have the original and still are considering to buy this one, I wouldn't buy it, but that's already personal taste. But I think that everyone would agree there is no comparison between the two recordings.
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