& ETHE MICHIGAN DAILY
Arts EThursday June 3,nterta96inment
By JEFFREY SELBST
It is always an occasion when
a new Sondheim musical hits
Broadway. With Company, Fol-
lies, and A Little Night Music,
it was a time of rejoicing in the
quality of art displayed by the
master. Pacific Overtures de-
serves a word that should be
consigned to it alone:
The play is on less-than-per-
manent display at the Winter
Garden Theater on Broadway
and 50th in New York. It won't
be there much longer, so if you
promise yourself (as I do) never
to miss a Sondheim show, hurry.
I must confess that the idea
was a trifle disappointing from
the first. A musical about the
opening of Japan to the West?
There seemed precious few op-
portunities to burst into song
with such premise as that. Hav-
ing now seen it, I would say
this: that the song possibilities
were all milked dry, and that
the initial boredom of the score
results from the too-appropriate
nature of the music's placement,
and the music's general tune-
The other idea that I didn't
like upon first hearing was that
the show was to be ersatz-
kabuki, which I imagined to be
the Japanese equivalent of bowl-
ing alley-Chinese food. Kabuki
theater is so stylized and .in-
herently Eastern that I wonder-
ed whether a bunch of Western
theatrical people who are, I
must add, the most gifted in
Western musicals at the present,
could possibly interpret their
The play is a curious mixture
of Eastern mysticism and West-
ern goo. It lacks focus, trying
to bring too many people and
toomany years of Japanese his-
tory into the limelight at once.
In a play about the affect of
Westernization of a foreign cul-
ture, the best approach might
be to center about one family,
or one set of people, and show
how t h e y are affected by
changes internal and external.
Indeed Pacific Overtures is
most effective when it does this.
Equally, it is least effective
when it tries for universality,
and in rather pompous fashion
at that. Haiku poetry of dubious
meaning and questionable val-
ues are quoted incessantly, to
no perceivable end. The Reciter
(played by Mako) opens the
play by announcing "Nippon:
The Floating Kingdom in the
Middle of the Sea," which in
fact it was. The first number
"The Advantages of Floating in
the Middle of the Sea" bore an
annoying resemblance to "Tra-
dition" from the equally-annoy-
ing Fiddler on the Roof.
It is a valid theatrical tenet
that an audience ought to be
shown the setting, ought to be
given the cues and allowed to
draw their own conclusions. This
number, coming off somewhere
between "If you want to know
who we are" from Gilbert and
Sullivan's The Mikado and the
aferomentioned Fiddler s o n g,
leaves nothing to the imagina-
tion. Surprisingly for Sondheim,
it is also nearly tuneless, or as.
close as I hope he ever gets.
Unfortunately, most of the
score is undistinguished as well.
Two other numbers ."Please
Hello," the second-act curtain
raiser, and "Welcome to Kana-
gawa," the song of the Japanese
hookers, are clever, well-con-
ceived, cute, and funny. The
former resorts to Gilbert and
Sullivan combined with Offen-
bach and a little good old Broad-
way high-kicking to get things
moving. The lyrics are, unfor-
tinately, topical-they are funny
now, but won't hold up in re-
vival. (Sondheim is no stranger
to this phenomenon: Anyone
Can Whistle will probably never
be revived for much the same
The latter number plays on
camp.- All the female parts in
kabuki are played by men.
Therefore the "madam" has a
chance to mug fairly outrage-
ously, coming off as one might
in a show at the Continental
Baths. An ancient haiku is quot-
ed "Bird from the seas/ Not
knowing pine from bamboo/
Roosts anywhere," and in a low
voice, "madam" leers and says
The story line as it stands is
confusing, and the songs do
nothing to clear up the murk. In
a rare instance (for example,
in "There is no Other Way")
Sondheim combines Eastern and
Western music to lovely effect.
But in the perfectly poisonous
number "Chrysanthemum Tea,"
he combines them to perhaps
the worst possible.
The much-vaunted: Sondheim
wit in lyrics is missing, too. He
writes now in pseudo-meaningful
phrases, combined at lightning
speed, . with numbing results.
The final number, which at-
tempts to show how Japan mod-
ernized itself in 120 years, en-
titled "Next," is a triumph of
miscalculation. There isn't an
ending to this show that could
have been more ill-starred.
The show has some incredibly
strong moments as well, where
the wisdom of the Orient is com-
bined with Broadway wit. But
those moments, as well as any
with some kind of restraint, are
The only fear I have is that
this may be the direction Sond-
heim is moving inexorably in.
There is no clear evidence of
wit when lyrics are belabored
and style is missing. Let us see
another brilliant, savage show
like Follies again, and we'll
know we haven't lost our best
show composer to the wicked
You know, find out where the
audience is from ..." Evading
the issue, they wouldn't com-
ment on their use of Flash
Paper and their bizarre behav-
ior. "You'll like the next set
... like old times."
The second set was more of
those old tunes - stripped of
the accompaning stage antics.
Or, a rehash of selected smorg-
asboard samples of the past --
Beatles hits, "Jopo, "''Jee-
miahWas a Bullfrog .,"
How long will Americans let
them "rub some nostalgia dcwn
your throats" ... and .. "take
you back to 1964" - a sad, path-
etic end for a memory.
The other day, a friend of mine to whom I had taught bridge
just four months ago told me he had just finished reading Clyde
Love's famous work, Bridge Squeezes Complete.
"I'm ready for anything now," he boasted. "I'm even as good
I- told him that he wasn't setting his sights high enough, just
hoping to be as good as I, and I also tried to convince him that
good declarer play involved a lot more than just fancy squeeze
plays. But he couldn't hear a word I said.
"I'm playing in a club tournament tonight," he said, "and I'd
like you to kibitz your star pupil in action."
I cgnsented, and off we went to the tables.
The first 10 or 12 boards were unexciting anO my friend han-
dled them adequately. Then this hand came up;
4 A t108
By BLAIR CARROLL
SECOND CHANCE, JUNE 1
- Herman's Hermits have re-
turned after a three-year hiatus
from the American musical
scene, doing little to reinforce
nostalgic memories of yester-
year's hit band. Certainly the
Hermits' limited repetoire of
their golden oldies, Eagle's and
early Beatles songs, proved the
unlikelihood of their making a
comeback in the United States.
Twenty-seven songs later, they
had run out of material; their
encore was "Henry the Eighth,"
the same song with which they
closed their first set.
What has happened to Ameri-
can music and the Hermits since
the period between 1969-1973,
when they toured the continent
-Bands in America don't exist
for long in their original form.
Their audiences are young, af-
fluent kids, who want to be en-
tertained. Bands, therefore, eith-
er have to style their music to
fit the times, or change mem-
b~s by regrouping -- to be
known for musical talent. There
is no longer a demand for yes-
terday's band at todays concert
price - records are cheaper.
As for what has happened to
the Hermits - like most mu-
sicians the Hermits have fallen
on rough times, "gigs are clos-
ing down in Europe ... places
like this are only open a few
nights a week." So the Hermits
are back on the road, sans Her-
man, playing one night stands
across the U.S.
What's more surprising than
their attempt at a comeback
is their attempt to accomplish
it with Eagles songs and out-
rageous stage antics. Those
stage antics, sexually sugges-
tive, dominated the first set.
"Well we've always done that.
My friend, for convenience, is sitting south, and wound up in
a 4 spade contract mostly as a sacrifice over West's 4 heart call,
but he had visions of making the contract when he bid it.
West ledthe 5 of clubs, and my pal studied the hand. He
had 3 sure. losers - one in spades, one in hearts and one in
clubs. There was a chance of an additional loser in diamonds,
spades or clubs. There was nothing he could do about diamonds
or clubs, so he had to concentrate on losing only one spade.
Having decided his line of play, he played low from dummy,
and East won the trick with the Ace. Back came a small club
which my friend won with the King.
It was time to start trumps, so my friend, realizing the need
to lead up to his KQ10, led a small diamond to dummy's Ace, and
led the 6 of trumps from the board. East ducked, and my friend
won with the Queen of spades. Next he led another diamond to
the board, and played the remaining spade .East rose with the
Ace, and led a heart to his partner's Ace. West then led his last
diamond, and East ruffed with his last trump for the setting trick.
"Oh well," my friend said. "No one else will make it so it
will probably be a good board anyway." While unfolding the trav-
eling scorecard, he continued, "I could have made it if I had
finessed the 10 of spades, but that was only a 50-50 shot. But,
maybe there was a squeeze?"
This question infuriated me, and I was about to reply when
my friend saw the results.
"So far we're dead bottom!" he exclaimed. "All but 2 pairs
beat 4 hearts a trick, and one of those 2 pairs made the silly
thing. I can't believe it," he added. "Some fish take the spade
finesse and we get a cold zero."
No longer able to restrain myself, I said, "I'm not so sure who
the fish was on this hand." Without giving my friend a chance to
respond I continued, "You were right to bid 4 spades, but your
play and your comments about the play are all wrong. The hand
could and should have been made, but not by a fatuous finesse,
nor by one of your beloved squeezes. After winning the first
spade trick," I continued, "you should re-think the hand. You
know you want to get to dummy to lead trumps up to your ten-
ace, but you should forsee the danger of a diamond ruff and
come up with a plan to avoid it. It's actually a very simple
play," I explained. "Before leading a second diamond to dummy,
you simply lead a heart, to break communications. Either side
can win the heart trick but neither can hurt you. Whatever is led
you win, and then play a diamond to the board, lead a trump back
to your hand, and make the contract losing only one more trick to
the Ace of spades."
The point that I later made to my friend was that fancy
double-clash or hexagon squeezes were nice plays to know and
fantasize about, but they aren't very practical. They simply don't
come up that often. "Learn how to handle hands like this one
first," I told my friend, "then worry about the squeezes."
This is not to say that squeezes are worthless, they aren't. In
fact, many squeeze hands will show up this summer in this col-
umn. But, there will also be a lot of fairly simple hands that re-
quire only very basic plays, like today's.
By the way, today's play, although simple, has a fancy name
-the Scissors Coup, so named because it cuts communication,
So, next time you come, across a hand like today's and you make
the right play, tell your friends that you made 4 spades on a
Scissors Coup. It sounds impressive, but we know its not.
Briefly in the arts
The Ark is trying to reopen,
but the age-old problem, known
as lack of the American doltar,
stands in the way. The hopeful
solution is The Ark Benefit on
Sunday, June 13 at the Power
Center. There will bo two per-
formances - two o':;locK and
eight o'clock.' Featured artists
include Leon Redbone, Itamblin'
Jack Elliott, and John Prine.
Be warned: these are two dif-
ferent performances and each
will be unique (which means
the evening performance does
not repeat the afternoon per-
formance). This promises to be
a day of quality enterttainmnt;
at least a good way to spend
a Sunday, while supporting the