10 MONTROSE VOICE / OCTOBER 4. 1985
The Emperor's Nightingale
By Bill O'Rourke
Montrose Voice Theater Critic
The only time I every saw kabuki was on
television. That, in a way, is a mini-
metaphor for Pacific Overtures now playing at Stages.
This engrossing musical is about the
clash of two cultures. Admiral Perry has
arrived in the waters off Japan with four
warships. For two and a half centuries, no
foreigner has been allowed to set foot on
the islands. Nor has any Niponese been
allowed to leave. The two cultures have
not mixed or intercontacted. Now Perry
will change that either through peaceful
overtures or through explosive gunboat
"diplomacy." Once the threat is there, is
there any difference?
The story is told from the Japanese perspective. The first act shows us the tricky
machinations of subtle statesmanship
which would seem to show that had the
terrible Americans been traditional Japanese gentlemen, or even devils, the whole
matter would have been maneuvered to
blow harmlessly over. This impressive
feat was only doomed to failure by the
failure to understand cultural differences.
Of course, no one really knows what was
said in that treaty house.
The play unfolds a la kabuki. In that
style, everything is simplified, stylized,
ritualized. Often one performer is the body
of the character while another voices the
No women are allowed on stage. So all of
the female characters are enacted by men.
This style allows for some spectacularly
simple effects, such as the fierce grimace
with which the shogun's mother momentarily halts the advance of warships. It also
opens the way for some lyrically beautiful
moments, such as the tearful parting of
the young samurai and his wife.
That style is filtered through the most
modern of musical comedy forms. This is
not a Jerry Herman traditional musical
like the Schmidt/Jones inspired Gold-
diggers (at MST). And certainly not a
revue like A ... Alice (still at the Alley)—
although that influence is also traceable.
The Houston audience is currently blessed
with a real choice between three strong
Starting about with Company, Sondheim's musicals have been more essays
than stories. True, one is illustrated by a
hauntingly touching story on a one-to-one
personal level. But the true emphasis is on
the sweeping panoply of the national
level. In some ways, it is reminiscent of a
Michener "novel." In others, it feels like a
It is a blend musically as well. The unique story and style allow Sondheim to
paraody people as diverse as Cohen, Gilbert and Sullivan and Sousa. There is even
a delightful Victorian music hall number
for a madame trotting down to meet the
A major influence on Sondheim is the
art song. This, backed up by a quasi-
Japanese percussion section and lute-like
counter melodies, could be expected to be
difficult to sing. These are beautiful,
though, and soar through the score like
I had heard and read many things about
the beauties of the original Harold Prince
staging of this John Weidman book. Let
me warn you. I^eave all such preconceptions at home.
Director Ted Swindley wisely took the
material and redid it to fit his own space.
He did this so superbly that it feels as if
this show might have been commissioned
by this theater. It is fully at home here.
Would that I could visit it again next January, but it cannot tarry as long as it
deserves. After all. it is only one show in a
This is the i
Cast members from "Pacific Overtures"
Bent. (How's that for starting a few arguments?) When this man is at his best, he is
As an actor with a critical eye, I am
often cursed with a voice in the back of my
head echoing the lines not as they were
just spoken but as I would have said them.
If I get over that, there is the further hurdle
of envy—either wishing I had the role or
hoping to equal the man's talent. Either
way it means the actor is calling undue
attention to himself. It is rare that I can
spend an entire evening just emotionally
caught up in the show. That happened
with this one!
Outside of Greg Baldwin, Robert McNe-
lis, and Jeffrey Gimble, the style makes it
difficult to know which actors to praise.
However, I must mention Jerry Miller,
James Clubb, Gary Livingwood and
If you miss this one without a very good
reason, you should put that cone on your
head and sit on the stool in the corner.
The KS/AIDS Foundation, the Gay and
Lesbian Switchboard, the GPC, and
Hazelwitch Productions have completely
bought out the Alley mainstage for tomorrow (Saturday) night's preview performance of Execution of Justice. If you have
not already picked up your tickets at the
Houston Area Women's Center or Wilde
and Stein Books, I'm sure there will be a
few left at the door. I cannot think of an
audience with which I would rather see
this show. And, this being the first preview, you cannot see it any earlier.
This is an examination of the trial of
Dan White for killing Harvey Milk and
Mayor Moscone. The verdict touched off
explosive rioting in San Francisco. Considering a certain person's mayoral campaign, the play could prove most
Ticket prices for this benefit are actually
lower than for the following Saturday.
You're going to want to see this anyway.
So see it now! ...
The Group, the theatrical discussion
group that produced One, is having an
open house this Sunday afternoon, 2:00-
4:00 p.m., at Dignity Center, 3217 Fannin.
So many members are successfully
engaged that rehearsals and performances often put a damper on attendance at
their regular Thursday evening meetings.
So they're looking for fresh blood. Would
that we all had such problems! ...
The National Endowment for the Arts
has awarded Houston Grand Opera a
grant for $1 million, provided they can
match it with $3 million in new or
increased non-federal donations by June
30, 1989. ...
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation
Association and the Cambridge Arts
Council are looking for art works to place
in remodeled subway stations. For more
info on their open competition, call the
Cultural Arts Council of Houston, 527-
Auditions at Stages for two musicals.
The Fantasticks (11/28-12/29) and Sand
Between Your Toes (1/23-2/9). Resume,
photo, two songs, one monologue. For
appointment (10/5&6), call Mark Mitchell
Celebrate! Wasn't the Chevalier d'Eon
(born the 7th) that military genius who
died while dancing in a tutu? October 4,
1892, Alberta Lucille Hart was thrown out
of a YWCA gymnasium when she was
mistaken for a man. Well, turn-of-the-
century pederastic poet John Gambrill
Nicholson (born the 6th) kept his clothes
decidedly on when he wrote:
"I love him wisely if I love him well.
And so I let him keep his innocence;
I veil my adoration with pretence
Since he knows nothing of Love's mystic Spell
.. . Perchance he wonders why I shun Singers and Dancers from "42nd Sti
h.n,s.. ■ • t.V.. .......