By Michall Jeffers
Although it’s about another time, Allegiance tackles some of today’s biggest issues. What does it take to be a real American? Can you look different, but still have the same values? Does our country lose the right to expect loyalty from citizens in the face of government sanctioned discrimination?
When the show opens, we’re treated to George Takei as Sam Kimura; not surprisingly, he’s greeted by a round of enthusiastic applause. Sam is a bitter man; he rejects an opportunity to forgive his sister, Kei (Lea Salonga). They were once very close, but that was 50 years ago. Most of the rest of the play explains the cause of this rift in powerful flashback. The story is all the more effecting since we know that it’s largely based on the journey Takei’s family was forced to take as Americans of Japanese heritage during World War II. After Pearl Harbor, all those of Japanese extraction who were living on the West Coast were forced into detention camps; the government felt it was too great a security risk to leave them in their homes.
Many lost everything. For all, it was a painful and humiliating experience. Modest Japanese women were ordered to disrobe for physicals; the latrines had no separate stalls; private dinner time was disrupted, with everyone eating in the mess hall. The family of the young Sammy (Telly Leung) tries to live according to the principle of “Gaman,” endurance with dignity, as taught to them by the grandfather they call “Ojii-chan” (Takei). Problems are magnified in the stultifying environment. Kei begins to think of herself as an old maid, until she catches the attention of Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), a young rebel who finds the exile intolerable. Sammy vows to join the army, the better to show that Japanese Americans are loyal; he’s sure that once that’s demonstrated, the U.S. government will gladly free the internees. An oath of allegiance separates the community. Sammy and his friends sign eagerly. Frankie refuses, as does Kei and Sammy’s father Tatsuo (Christopher Nomura). Those who decline are considered trouble makers, and hauled off to jail.
Sammy learns that not all Caucasians are prejudiced against his people. Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke), a pretty blonde nurse who works at the infirmary, tries to help. Against their better judgement, Sammy and Hannah fall in love. The people in the camp want simple things; a vegetable garden, a chance to dance, baseball. But the horrors of war intrude. While a segregated battalion is allowed for Japanese Americans to fight in Europe, the casualties are high, and many, including Sammy, come home damaged physically and emotionally.
This is a production which features extraordinary talent. Broadway audiences are familiar with the stellar singing of Lea Salonga, and fans everywhere know George Takei as Star Trek’s Sulu. The real eye opener is Telly Leung, who possesses not only a full, rich voice, but also first class dance moves. More importantly, Leung radiates a likeability, and an appeal which allows us to understand the immediate attraction that Hannah feels for Sammy. The rest of the ensemble is uniformly excellent; this is definitely a heartfelt experience for both those in the cast and audience members.
Allegiance is a show you don’t just leave at the theater. For those interested in learning more about the events portrayed, there is ample info on the brave exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Their motto, coined by the Hawaiians in their ranks, was “Go for broke;” proportionately, they were the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare. Twenty-one of these soldiers received the Medal of Honor. After many years of campaigning for an official apology and compensation, in 1988 it finally came to fruition. $20,000 was paid to the surviving Japanese who had endured internment, and the U.S. government formally apologized.
George Takei has proclaimed that he bears no resentment or anger. But he has not forgotten, and once audience members are both richly entertained and educated by Allegiance, neither will we.
Allegiance, Longacre theatre, 220 W. 48 St.
www.allegiancemusical.com (212) 375-3663 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cast: George Takei (Sam Kimura/Ojii-chan), Lea Salonga (Kei Kimura), Telly Leung (Sammy Kimura), Katie Rose Clarke (Hannah Campbell), Michael K. Lee (Frankie Suzuki), Christopheren Nomura (Tatsuo Kimora), Greg Watanabe (Mike Masaoka
Director: Stafford Arima; Choreographer: Andrew Palermo
Book: Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, Lorenzo Thione
Music & Lyrics: Jay Kuo
Scenic design: Donyale Werle; Costume design: Alejo Vietti; Lighting design: Howell Binkley
Photos: Matthew Murphy
https://www.theaterpizzazz.com/allegiance-opening-night/ (see opening night curtain call & photos)