Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures to debut in Melbourne 2014

Following a sell out season of Assassins earlier this year, new and exciting production company Watch This is teaming up with Manilla Street Productions to debut Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Pacific Overtures in Melbourne next year.

Sonya Suares - Artistic Director of WATCH THIS
Sonya Suares – Artistic Director of WATCH THIS

Cited as Sondheim’s favourite and most ambitious work, Pacific Overtures has not yet enjoyed a professional season in Australia. Happily, from 19 February to 9 March, this unique fusion of Western chamber opera and Japanese Kabuki theatre will finally sweep onto stage at Theatre Works in St Kilda. Directed by Alister Smith and Robyn Womersley (MD), with award-winning designers Eugyeene Teh and Rob Sowinski in tow, Pacific Overtures will feature cross-gender and cross-racial casting in a bold, new interpretation that revels in heightened theatricality.

Kicking off in 1853, with Commodore Perry’s incursion into Japan, Pacific Overtures explores the forces that tear open a once fiercely insular society, covering around 160 years of epic change in an extraordinary and highly charged 100 minutes of theatre.

Sonya Suares, Artistic Director of Watch This, is over the moon about partnering with Manilla Street Productions and Theatre Works to present such a complex and relevant work in our current climate.

“This is a story by an American playwright about a moment in Japanese history, so it doesn’t claim any cultural authenticity, it constructs a context for exploring issues that come up in all societies from time to time. Issues around change and loss and invasion anxiety and tradition and love and politics and war and how we move forward together with an influx of new ideas and still hang onto our identity – all of which are highly relevant to us now”, she said.

The team are currently taking expressions of interest for casting, and auditions are set to take place November 23rd and 24th. Actors of all ethnicities are encouraged to apply.

“This work demands a cross-racial cast. Right now as a culture, we are completely described by diversity. And when we insist on that onstage, we foreground both the mechanics and the power of theatre. We are saying to our audience: “Come with us, we’re telling a story”. Instinctively, this seems the best way to build a bridge from our world here and now to the world of the play.”

Suares is convinced this is the right moment to be throwing a lot of incredibly rich and complex ideas onto stage in an(other) intimate venue, where the exchange between actors and audiences is immediate and electric.

“The play doesn’t provide any neat answers to the questions it raises,” she warns. But then again, that’s what people love about Sondheim. And if people go to the theatre to be challenged and transformed, then this ambitious production certainly won’t disappoint.

For a production brief, please email [email protected]

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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