The PopCulteer
April 7, 2023

This week’s PopCulteer is dedicated to trying to catch up after back-to-back excursions over the last couple of weeks, so bear with me.

Pacific Overtures At Signature

To start off, we’ll go in reverse order and talk about where I was eight days ago. Your humble blogger and his lovely wife hopped the Amtrak Cardinal to the Washington DC area (Arlington, to be precise) to see Signature Theater‘s production of the rarely-staged Stephen Sondheim musical, Pacific Overtures.

I’m not going to write a full-blown review here because this production wraps up in a couple of days and all remaining performances are completely sold out, but I do want to acknowledge what an amazing production this was.

I had deliberately kept myself in the dark about what this musical was even about. I knew it was set in Japan, and from what I’d heard from Larry Hama (the legendary comic book creator, GI Joe: A Real American Hero developer and an original cast member of the Broadway production in 1976), I knew it was set in Edo-period Japan and had a large Asian cast.

The book, by frequent Sondheim collaborator, John Weidman, tells of the end of Japan’s isolationist era when Admiral Perry used a show of force to convince the country’s leadership to open up two ports and establish relations with the international community after 250 years of a strictly-enforced ban on interacting with other countries.

Weidman worked with Signature to edit and update the original show, bringing it in at a still-meaty two hours and twenty minutes, and bringing the closing song up to date with new information. As it is now, Pacific Overtures is a briskly-paced, yet still substantial, tale of the internal struggles of Japan as they ended their isolation and the early signs of their eventual Westernization and industrialization.

The story is told with some of Sondheim’s lovliest songs, and also with a wicked sense of humor and political satire. This production also incorporates elements of Noh and Kabuki, which works splendidly with the deceptively minimalist set.

The cast is simply amazing. Led by Jason Ma as “the Reciter,” the eight men and two women of the cast take on over thirty roles, and show an astonishing versatility as they tackle the challenging points in the score with ease, then find themselves indulging in moments of slapstick comedy, Kabuki, puppetry, Noh and enough cross-dressing to emotionally scar a Republican legislator.

The necessity of a large Asian cast is what keeps Pacific Overtures from being staged more often, and that is a real shame because now that I’ve seen it, this has become one of my favorite Sondheim shows. It’s also one that simply wouldn’t work with a diverse cast. Signature has assembled an incredibly talented ensemble for Pacific Overtures, and that is just part of what made this such an impressive production.

Even though we’ve been visiting the DC area and staying at a hotel virtually across the street from Signature Theater for over twelve years, prior to Pacific Overtures we had only been there once to see a cabaret show by a friend of Mel’s.  We are definitely going to be seeing more shows there in the future. It’s a great space and they stage a very classy repertoire

Comic Books at Lexington’s Comic & Toy Con

We jumped on that train last week just a couple of days after we returned from a drive to Lexington, Kentucky for the Lexington Comic and Toy Show. Our main reason for going there was so that Mrs. PopCulteer could meet Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants. However, they had a rather impressive line-up of comic book creators, and today we’re going to show you some of the comic-book-centric photos from the convention. These were all taken at the Thursday evening comics preview night, which is why the crowds aren’t so insane.  We still have more photos and videos from the Lexington trip to share next week.

But now…the comics stuff from Lexington…

While the convention was loaded with tons of Anime, Star Wars and movie vendors, there were also a healthy number of comic book dealers on hand.

Coincidentally, we got to catch up with Larry Hama, who we met at JoeLanta many years ago, and he seemed delighted when we told him that we were going to see Pacific Overtures the following week. In addition to creating GI Joe: RAH and many other great comics, Larry was in the original Broadway cast of the show back in 1976. You can hear Larry talk about that experience HERE.

In the middle of this photo you see Jim Starlin posing with a fan. Starlin notably created Thanos for Marvel Comics, and had memorable runs on Adam Warlock, Captain Marvel, Dreadstar and tons of other great cosmic comics, in addition to a memorable stint writing Batman.

Mike Grell, creator of Warlord, Starslayer and Jon Sable: Freelance, hard at work on a sketch.

I got to catch up with Ceredo’s Beau Smith, an old buddy from my own days in the comics biz and the creator of Wynonna Earp, but forgot to get a decent photo of him. If you squint, you can see him in the above photo glancing at his phone while he talks to the mad scientist who was in front of the silver and red R2 droid. Also, the guy in the red shirt talking to Bill Morrison…five minutes later he was crushed to death by an avalanche of plush Pokemon characters. Poor wardrobe choice on his part.

Legendary Marvel Comics artist and cover designer, Bob Hall, who like yours truly, was in Lexington, while the poster of his cover for Super Joe Unlimited #1. from Power Comics, was making its debut at ToyLanta.

It was really cool to meet Bill Morrison, who did amazing work on The Simpson’s Comics for years, and more recently did a killer graphic novel version of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. I bought that Yellow Submarine print you see behind him in the upper left.

Another comics dealer, proud of the multiple copies of key Marvel Comics he had.

And finally, we lucked into meeting Dave Aikins, a Columbus-based illustrator who’s done tons of childrens books based on licensed properties like SpongeBob and Dora. We bought a bit of stuff from him, including a SpongeBob/Captain Marvel mash-up.

That is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features, fresh content every day, and just maybe, video of Mel meeting Tom Kenny on Sunday.