George Takei Central Focus of Broadway's ALLEGIANCE

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Allegiance George Takei Broadway Mike Maillaro Critical Blast

I saw my first Broadway show when I was 18 years old. A friend of mine bought me tickets to see LES MISERABLES as a High School graduation present. Since then, I have probably been to about twenty other shows (LES MISERABLES is still my favorite...I have seen it at least five times). Unfortunately, since our kids were born, my wife and I don't get to go as much as we would like. Getting to New York is a bit of a hassle, and the tickets are expensive. Not to mention adding on the cost of eating dinner in New York. A night at a Broadway show will typically end up costing us over $500 bucks.

From the first time I heard George Takei speaking about ALLEGIANCE about two or three years, we have been excited to see it. In fact, we have had our tickets pre-ordered since February. After a long hard road to get to Broadway, ALLEGIANCE finally opened in previews on October 6, and we were there!


ALLEGIANCE - The Musical
Directed by: Stafford Arima
Choreographed by : Andrew Palermo
Book by: Marco Acito, Kay Luo, and Lorenzo Thione
Music and Lyrics by: Kay Luo

 

Cast:
George Takei
Telly Leung
Lea Salonga
Katie Rose Clarke
Michael K. Lee
Christopheren Nomura
Greg Watanabe

 

 


 

 

ALLEGIANCE is the story about a Japanese-American's family struggle to exist in America after Pearl Harbor. About 120,000 Japanese-Americans (many of them US Citizens) were put in internment camps purely out of fear and political gamesmanship. George Takei was only 5 years old when he was sent to live in one of these camps, and ALLEGIANCE is based on his own experiences, as well as the experiences of many other Japanese-Americans at the time.

The play revolves around the Kimura family. Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung) is an all-American boy who wants nothing more than to be able to serve the country he loves so much...even as that country hates and fears him. His older sister Kei (Lea Salonga) was forced to grow up at a young age when her mother died giving birth to Sammy. Their father Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura) tries to be a loyal American, but after his family home has been taken away and the American government tries to force him to sign an ALLEGIANCE pledge, he finds himself pushed too far and resists, which lands him in a prison camp. The patriarch of the family Ojii-Chan is played by George Takei (who also plays an older Sammy in the beginning and end of the show).

Even in an internment camp, people try to get back to living normal lives. Kei falls in love with a man named Frankie (Michael L. Lee), who starts having rebellious ideas of his own, which puts him into conflict with Sammy. And Sammy finds himself drawn to a nurse named Hannah (Katie Rose Clarke), who feels like she's betraying her country by falling in love with the enemy...until she realizes that Japanese-Americans are just as American as anyone else. The cast is rounded out by Greg Watanabe, who had the tricky role of playing Mike Masaoka. Mike Masaoka is a real historical figure, controversial to put it lightly. He was the head of the Japanese American Citizens League and worked closely with the American government to encourage Japanese-Americans to cooperate, as well as helping to hide the conditions of the internment camps from the rest of the country.

I had high expectations for ALLEGIANCE, and the show more than exceeded them. The story was powerful, the music was great, and there was a lot of warmth and humor in the musical. Every time I told someone yesterday “I am going to see a musical about Japanese internment camps,” they immediately responded with "That sounds so grim!" Even though ALLEGIANCE is very sad at times, it never feels depressing. Most of the characters manage to maintain a strong sense of hope and purpose throughout the events of the show.

The casting of this show was absolutely brilliant. Telly Leung may be the most naturally charismatic performer I have ever seen. Whenever he was on the stage, you are automatically drawn to him. And he has a hell of a powerful voice. In fact, he was so good, that when he's off stage for a good chunk of the second act, the show started to lull a little for me. It is never bad, but it was definitely noticeable.

Lea Solonga has always been such a wonderful performer, and ALLEGIANCE was a perfect example of why she's a Broadway icon. I actually thought she was much older than 44, just because I have been hearing her name as long as I can remember. She brings so much energy and life into Mei. I especially loved her scenes with George Takei, which were often the most heartfelt and light moments of the show.

So many of the characters in ALLEGIANCE find themselves in conflict with what they have always believed and what they are forced to go through because of the War. What really intrigued me about ALLEGIANCE is that the show doesn't really have a direct antagonist. None of the characters are bad guys, not really. Even for Mike Masaoka, it often seemed like his actions were done with trying to keep his people as safe as he possibly could in the current conditions. ALLEGIANCE seems to do a very good job of just presenting the characters without judgment. Many characters make mistakes, but they come off as flawed and human, never as evil.

The songs throughout the show were very good, though I was admit there wasn't one real stand out song for me. Part of that was that the whole cast was just so good. I did like Kei and Hannah's "Stronger than Before" in Act 2 a lot, and "Ishi Kara Ishi" with Kei signing with her grandfather was beautiful. "Get in the Game" where Sammy tries to inspire the camp with baseball was a lot of fun too.

There weren't any songs that I didn't like, though I kind of thought the USO scene towards the end of the second act felt out of place.

So much of ALLEGIANCE makes you feel a certain negativity towards US military policy, that seeing a scene celebrating those very policies just felt a little awkward. Granted, that might have been intentional, but it still just felt a little too uncomfortable for me.

The staging was beautiful. The sets weren't overly complicated, letting the actors get most of the focus. But throughout the show, they would project images on the sets (like news headlines, or a tattered image of the American flag to start the show) that really brought them to life. Towards the end of the show, there is a sequence revolving around the bombing of Hiroshima that was particularly powerful. I actually gasped at the end of the scene because of how well it is put together.

ALLEGIANCE is a terrific musical, and you can tell everyone involved put their hearts into it. The show will be officially opening on November 8, but it is already polished to perfection. I am not sure if I liked it more than Les Miserables...I would have to see it one or two more times to decide for sure, but it is damn close. If you get to see ALLEGIANCE, I would definitely recommend it.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0