Shōgun: The Musical

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The Musical
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Music Paul Chihara
Lyrics John Driver
Book John Driver
Basis James Clavell's novel
Productions 1990 Kennedy Center
1990 Broadway

Shōgun: The Musical is a musical with a book and lyrics by John Driver and music by Paul Chihara.

Based on James Clavell's 1976 novel and the 1980 television mini-series of the same name based on it, the musical centers on shipwrecked English sea captain John Blackthorne, who finds himself drawn into a political power play while involved in an illicit affair with a married noblewoman in 17th-century Japan. Clavell's novel was itself originally inspired by the true story of English navigator William Adams.


Clavell himself initiated the project in 1982 and, when it remained in limbo for more than eight years, finally provided most of the financing required to get it mounted. Compressing his mammoth work, which had required twelve hours to tell fully on screen, into a reasonable length for the theatre proved to be a daunting task. When the production opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., it closely resembled Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera in size and scope, with a cast of thirty-eight characters, more than three hundred costumes, a libretto nearly entirely sung, and a running time of 3½ hours. Critics and audiences alike had difficulty following the convoluted plot, and it was decided to cut much of the music and replace it with dialogue. Composer Chihara objected and was dismissed. The leading man Peter Karrie was also let go and was replaced by Philip Casnoff, who had auditioned for the role but was rejected by producers who deemed him too young and too American.

A revamped, considerably shorter show arrived in New York City. At the press preview shortly before the official opening night, Casnoff was struck by a piece of scenery in the middle of the second act, and the performance abruptly ended. His injuries were minor, and after a brief recuperation period he returned to the show.

After eighteen previews, the Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Michael Smuin, opened on November 20, 1990 at the Marquis Theatre, where it ran for 72 performances. In addition to Casnoff, the cast included June Angela, Joseph Foronda, Eric Chan, JoAnn M. Hunter, Leslie Ishii, and Francis Ruivivar.

Despite a detailed plot synopsis in the Playbill, audiences were still confused by the action onstage. Critics found the special effects (including a shipwreck, an earthquake, and a battle fought on horseback in a snowstorm) and Patricia Zipprodt's costume designs to be impressive, but the score was weak and Smuin, whose background was ballet, had concentrated more on unnecessary dance sequences than he had on plot exposition. Japanese visitors kept the show running for two months,[citation needed] but when the Persian Gulf War broke out, tourism dropped dramatically and the production closed.


Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical (Angela, nominee)
  • Tony Award for Best Costume Design (nominee)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Angela, nominee)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costumes (winner)
  • Theatre World Award (Ruivivar, winner)


Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum, published by St. Martin's Press (1991), pages 185-86 (ISBN 0-312-06428-4)

External links[edit]