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Profs' history show gets Broadway performance

'American Warship,' an image from the 'Black Ships and Samurai' exhibit by professors John Dower and Shigeru Miyagawa.
'American Warship,' an image from the 'Black Ships and Samurai' exhibit by professors John Dower and Shigeru Miyagawa.

When MIT professors John Dower and Shigeru Miyagawa collaborated on a web-based, OpenCourseWare project commemorating the 150th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry's journey to Japan, they never expected that their "show" would end up under the bright lights of New York's theater district.

But imagery from the award-winning project and exhibition titled "Black Ships and Samurai" will be featured in the lobby of Studio 54 when the Roundabout Theater presents Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" beginning Nov. 12.

The musical, a revisionist staging of the 1976 Sondheim production, is directed by Amon Miyamoto, one of the foremost musical theater directors in Japan and the first Japanese director ever on Broadway.

The exhibit in the theater's lobby will provide theater-goers with greater historical context for the musical--a play which captures the culture clash that would ultimately reshape the world in the 20th century, said Miyagawa, the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture. Ellen Sebring and Scott Shunk are designing the physical exhibit.

Dower, the Ford International Professor of History, whose masterpiece on post-war Japan "Embracing Defeat" won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, has developed an innovative approach to history using the images from the period of study. He and Miyagawa received this year's Class of 1960 Innovation in Education award for their "Black Ships" project.

A pre-Broadway presentation and discussion, billed as a "unique encounter between Broadway and MIT," will be held at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. The presentation will feature director Miyamoto and Dower, who will present views of the historic encounter between Japan and the U.S. that occurred when Commodore Perry sought to open up the secluded Japan to the world. Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston will moderate.

Dower will present the artwork that he and Miyagawa created for their exhibition, which shows both sides of the encounter.

Sponsors of "Black Ships and Samurai on Broadway" include the MFA and the Consulate General of Japan, as part of the 150th anniversary of U.S.-Japan relations.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 15, 2004 (download PDF).

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