Press Play: Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures Opens Thursday at Blackbird Theater



To herald its past productions, such as G.K. Chesterton's Magic, the Blackbird Theater company made clever YouTube-propagated videos that built and aura of mystery and excitement around the plays. For what should be one of the hottest tickets in town over the next three weekends — its blue-moon-rare local staging of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's legendary, seldom-performed 1976 musical Pacific Overtures at Lipscomb's Shamblin Theatre — the Blackbird's taking a page almost literally from the cult-movie poster series at venues such as Austin's Alamo Drafthouse.

Each week, for the three weeks leading up to the play, the Blackbird has issued a different poster image by Tim Parker, a five-time Dove Award winner. (Look, they made a hat!) This week's rising-sun image is great, but my favorite for graphic punch combined with sheer promotional moxie may be the very first one — which combines a warship silhouetted against a blood-red sun with the genius come-on, "On February 2, the end of the world is coming." To the play's subjects — Okinawans facing the arrival of Commodore Perry and the subsequent Westernization of Japan — no doubt that's how it felt, and Sondheim's score employs a kind of Russian nesting doll of cultural influences to convey it: the show's conceived as a Japanese imagining of how an American might imagine the Americanization of Japan.

Kudos to Blackbird's Greg Greene and Wes Driver not just for finding smart, unconventional ways to promote difficult shows, but for taking risks on material such as this and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. Miss this opportunity to see Pacific Overtures staged here, and you've got a better chance of seeing Commodore Perry return to Japan before you get another. We understand the Feb. 16 show is already sold out.

Below, the previous weeks' posters.


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