by Carole Di Tosti . . .
When the musical Allegiance, starring Lea Salonga, George Takei and Telly Leung was performed at the Longacre Theatre, it ran for 111 performances and closed in 2016. With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo, who also wrote the book with Lorenzo Thione and Marc Acito, critics gave it mixed reviews, though most all agreed the acting was excellent. Now, one can see Allegiance streaming on BroadwayHD.
Allegiance is inspired by the childhood of George Takei, whose family was relocated to Rohwer, Arkansas and then interned to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. The musical solidifies the appalling treatment of the Issei (immigrants from Japan) and Nisei (children born on US soil) on the Pacific Coast after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order evicted thousands of Japanese to internment camps, despite their citizenship rights and property ownership.
That time represents another dark period in our history which clashes with the glorious values we proclaim to uphold. Allegiance helps us in the most palatable yet truthful way to see into that time. The terrific musical poignantly encapsulates the epic story of Japanese American internment, by hitting all the emotional notes from fear to terror, to sadness, to joy through its sonorous music and powerfully effecting lyrics and book.
The production tracks what happens to the Kimura family who own a farm in Salinas, California. As they are evicted to a concentration camp at Heart Mountain in the isolated confines of Wyoming after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, we see their strength, their resilience, their resourcefulness, and their resolve to both resist and to persist, despite the injustices that go unanswered for decades.
Cleverly, Allegiance begins in the present with Sam Kimura (the wonderful George Takei) who is visited by a woman with a package. She evokes the ghost of his once beloved sister Kei to recall a horrific time that Sam has buried in his consciousness for decades (“Prologue”). In a flashback, we travel to the past to understand Sam’s personal history and the history of his family from whom he has been estranged. Perhaps, now is the time for the estrangement to end and the reconciliation to begin with the opening of this package that harkens from his former life.
Memories of his family come back with grace (“Wishes on the Wind”) coupled with fear and horror as we live through the roundup of the family and their conflicted response to the indignities, racism and discrimination as “enemy aliens,” though Kei, Sam and others are constitutional American citizens. Mike Masoka (Greg Watanabe in a complicated, rich role) is the liaison to the Roosevelt administration and head of the Japanese American Citizens League. He advises the evicted Issei and Niesi, who are losing everything they own, to trust the government. (“Do Not Fight the Storm”). And thus, begins Sam’s journey elucidating these historical events that help to make up the soul of our diverse nation.
We become acquainted with the determination and goals of Sam (the dynamic, fabulous Telly Leung) and empathize with his struggle to achieve them, though they contravene his father’s wishes. Likewise, we understand the homely dreams of his older sister Kei (the poignant and lovely Lea Salonga) who put her own dreams on hold to raise Sam when their mother died in childbirth. We also meet their father, Tatsuo Kimura (the proud, Christopheren Nomura) and Ojii-chan (George Takei) the sweet, wise and loving grandpa who inspires everyone with a quiet dignity.
As we move deeper into the breaches which cause the tragic family separation, we meet the Quaker nurse Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke) who becomes a force for goodness and is Sam’s love. Also, we meet Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee) who becomes Kei’s husband. Ironically, he causes the separation, yet is part of the connection to Sam’s reconciliation with his family in the present.
Superbly directed by Stamford Arima, this is a giant of a show; it is a maverick and a first-of-its kind on many levels. It is the first Broadway musical created by Asian Americans, directed by an Asian American, with a predominately Asian cast with an Asian-American perspective driving the work. Its cycle of 25 songs delivered with energy and spot-on emotional resonance astounds and moves one to one’s core. It deserves a revival, sooner rather than later, when Broadway is finally on its feet again.
Exceptional in its rich themes, its insightfully ironic, nuanced revelations encompass both acts. Allegiance’s conflicts are numerous, and all are deliciously current. An overriding question of the production remains, to what extent must we give our allegiance to our country, if in doing that we risk losing our family?
With well-thought out, clever production values and a beautiful and heightened musical score, the show is one that will always be current because of its immutable, central understanding of “the alien enemy,” subject to the will of the dominant “adversarial” governing power. In light of the current situation with the pandemic and rising anti-Asian sentiment, Allegiance goes deep as a historical, cautionary tale. Sam’s is a poignant, heartfelt and uplifting journey toward reconciliation. But most vitally, Allegiance is an indictment against the deep roots of discrimination that would readily leap up to be exploited politically by the unscrupulous.
You can see Allegiance on BroadwayHD streaming services. Go to https://www.broadwayhd.com/