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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

When it was first produced in 1976, Pacific Overtures attracted praise and opprobrium in almost equal measure. It was characterized by critics as both the supreme intellectual, as well as musical theatrical achievement of the Sondheim–Prince collaborations, and as the most cynical betrayal of the authentic vernacular American tradition of the musical. At a number of levels, both formal and substantive, it is a reflexive exploration of the tension between the national and global conditions of late twentieth-century American cultural identity and ambitions and their relation to the legacy of the Enlightenment origins of American society. The two levels discussed in detail are those of the relations between and modes of representation of the principal characters, and the processes of transition between traditional and modern societies. The chapter argues that the binary structure of the theatrical organization of Pacific Overtures in two sequential parts raises issues of the inevitability of the inversion of progress into tragedy.

Keywords: Enlightenment, Japanese history, kabuki theater, modernity, narrative of progress, postcolonial, reflexive, Weidman

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