The writings of James Michener have been successfully translated from the literary page to the screen and the stage. His "Tales of the South Pacific" comes to mind as the source material for very successful stage and screen versions of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, "South Pacific." In this case, Michener and those adapting his work treated with sensitivity the issues of racial prejudice that are at the core of the story of Nellie Forbush from Little Rock confronting her revulsion at learning that Emile de Becque has sired children with a dark-skinned Polynesian woman.
I assume that the creative team behind "Sayonara - The Musical" had similar aspirations in mind when they took Michener's "Sayonara" and adapted it for the stage. The results of this translation, produced by New York's Pan Asian Repertory Theatre fall short of the high standards set by "South Pacific."
The story is that of American GIs in occupied Japan in the 1950s falling in love with Japanese women, and fighting against the prejudice of their comrades and the regulatory restrictions imposed by the U.S. military against "fraternization with the Japanese." Private Joe Kelly (Edward Tolve) falls in love and marries Katsumi (Natsuko Hirano). The U.S. military refuses to allow him to take his Japanese bride with him when he is transferred back to the U.S. The young couple face difficult and painful choices on how to handle this dilemma. In parallel, Major Lloyd "Ace" Gruver (Morgan McCann) overcomes his initial revulsion at the thought of Americans and Japanese falling in love, and falls hard for the star actress of the famed Takarazuka Theatre, Hana-Ogi (Ya Han Chang). His attempts to get her to marry him are thwarted by obstacles on the American and Japanese sides of this cultural divide.
The book is by William Luce, Lyrics by Hy Gilbert, Music by George Fischoff, Choreography by Rumi Oyama, Music Direction by Sarah Brett England, Set Design by Sheryl Liu Lighting by Marie Yokoyama. The play is Directed by Tisa Chang. Japanese and dance Costumes were beautfully designed by Keiko Obremski. American uniforms by Carol A. Pelletier were ill-fitting, and the uniform of General Mark Webster was so wrinkled that he looked as if he had slept in it backstage. I expect higher production values from an Off-Broadway show.
I found the music and lyrics to be middle-of-the-road and largely forgettable. Mr. McCann possesses a strong singing voice, but did not always use it wisely. In a scene when he is asking Hana-Ogi if she will marry him, what should have been a tender moment became almost bombastic when the volume of his singing did not match the moment. Among the actors, Mr. Tolve acquitted himself well with his acting, singing and energetic dancing.
While there were entertaining moments in this production, the overall effect was disappointing.
The play will run through July 26.
at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St
July 5-26, 2015
Tue - Sat at 7:30 | Sat & Sun at 2:30
Added perfs Mon 7/6 at 7:30 & Wed 7/8 at 2:30
No perfs Fri 7/10 & Sat 7/11 at 2:30
Lyrics by Hy Gilbert
Music by George Fischoff
Adapted from the novel by James A. Michener
Directed by Tisa Chang
Choreography by Rumi Oyama
Music Direction by Sarah Brett England