George Takei put his soul into Allegiance. Known for being held in an internment camp in his youth, author’s Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione explain that his use of the word “Gaman” (meaning endurance and dignity) was inspiration for Allegiance. George’s deep-seated emotion regarding the 120,000 Japanese incarcerated during WWII was very evident in the play and Jay Kuo’s music and lyrics emulated it.
Directed by Stafford Arima, Allegiance began in 2001, where we meet a seasoned war veteran remembering Pearl Harbor in his old Army uniform. He is then approached by a knock at the door to reveal that his sister, one he has not seen in 50 years, has passed away. The performance then reels backward to Salinas, CA in 1941 where we meet the rest of the cast.
Portions of the play seemed out of order or misplaced until the very end, as its beginning brought the audience to the Kimura’s farm and the traditional Japanese celebration of the harvest. Setting the scene of a proud and boisterous Japanese family, costumes designed by Alejo Vietti and scenic design by Donyale Werle were complimentary and memorable. Lighting an sound by Howell Binkley and Kai Harada were also well matched and ushered in an artistic and historic atmosphere.
The Kimura family is a relatable bunch—a traditional Japanese father, Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura), a sister forced to become a motherly figure, Kei (Lea Salonga), a brother trying to forge his way into manhood on his own terms, Sammy (Telly Leung) and a laughable and lovable Ojii-chan (grandfather, George Takei). The audience follows this family on their disheartening journey across the United States to their internment camp at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming.
Kei (Lea Salonga) is lead on a personal journey throughout her time at the camp. Struggling with the weight of placing herself into a motherly role and stepping into her own, Salonga’s performance matches Kei’s struggles. Kei embodies more than just a woman’s obstacles during war and internment, Salonga brings to life the value of family and duty and how it can be juxtaposed to country.
Sammy (Telly Leung) is on a different path. Furious to think that he is not considered an American, Sammy bursts with energy and drive to bring the camp together and find a way to serve his country. Sammy emerges a national hero and Leung depicts Sammy’s stages of maturity and growth with ease. Sammy is the personification of the thousands of Japanese men who volunteered for service in suicide battalions and fought bravely to try to prove to the government that the Japanese people can be trusted and their families can be released.
Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura) stood for honor and other traditional Japanese values. Not content to bow to an American government that has placed him in an internment camp, Nomura symbolizes the mental and emotional struggle of the 120,000 around him that have suffered the same fate.
Ojii-chan (George Takei) was my personal favorite. A light-hearted and deprecating Japanese grandfather, Takei brought Ojii-chan into the role of jokester and wise man. Coining the term “Gaman” when the town first arrives at Heart Mountain, Takei is the wayward spirit that brings order to his grandchildren and allows them to pursue the next levels of their lives.
Sammy’s lover, Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke) brought in the American people that were sympathetic to the interned Japanese while Kei’s lover, Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), showed the ability of the Japanese people to take a stand against the indecency of the American government.
Allegiance’s subject matter is seldom talked about and I appreciated that. Depicting historical events in a musical is always difficult and Allegiance struggled at points but triumphed at others. Truly I have not seen a much better interpretation of the dropping of the atomic bomb. However, the subject matter itself did not seem to leave a lot of room for artistic interpretation by the actors. Choreographer Andrew Palermo’s use of dance as an undercurrent was very well done. Although, costume designer Alejo Vietti did miss the mark on proper military uniform, a personal pet peeve of mine.
In closing, if you are a World War II history buff you may be disappointed. Allegiance was a work of art shedding light on a time of darkness, I enjoyed it but I would not see it a second time.
Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus