Logo of the musical Allegiance
|Productions||2012 San Diego |
Allegiance is a musical with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. The story, set during the Japanese American internment of World War II (with a framing story set in the present day), was inspired by the personal experiences of George Takei, who stars in the musical. It follows the Kimura family in the years following the attack on Pearl Harbor, as they are forced to leave their farm in Salinas, California and are sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in the rural plains of Wyoming.
The musical began development in 2008 and premiered in September 2012 in San Diego, California. It played on Broadway from October 2015 to February 2016. Reviews on Broadway were mixed, although the cast was generally praised.
Conception and historical perspective
In the fall of 2008, George Takei and his husband, Brad, were coincidentally seated next to Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione at an Off-Broadway show, where a brief conversation revealed a mutual love of theater. The next day, the four were once again seated together at a Broadway show, In the Heights. At intermission, Kuo and Thione approached Takei, curious as to why he had been so emotionally affected by the father's song ("Useless") in which he laments his inability to help his family. Over the course of that intermission, Takei recounted his personal experience as a child in a Japanese internment camp, during World War II, and his own father's sense of helplessness at his inability to protect his family that was mirrored in the song. Kuo and Thione felt that Takei's family's experience would make a great show. Although previous major Broadway musicals have involved Asian and Asian-American topics or settings, including three of Rodgers and Hammerstein's shows, Pacific Overtures and Miss Saigon, Allegiance is "the first [Broadway] musical created by Asian Americans, directed by an Asian American ... with a predominantly Asian cast ... [and] an Asian-American viewpoint informing the work".
The story of the musical takes some liberties with history. According to Frank Abe, the creator of the documentary film Conscience and the Constitution, the musical "conflate[s] Heart Mountain with the worst of the segregation center at Tule Lake and invent[s] military rule at Heart Mountain." The processing of new arrivals is embellished for dramatic effect, as handcuffs and physical abuse by military police was not reported in the internment camps. Abe comments that the resistance by the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee was a studied act of civil disobedience, not a gang of "fists-raised revolutionaries". He notes: "No firearms were used inside the [camps'] perimeter. The resistance was open and above-board, its meetings open to the public. No one had to run or hide; leaders of the Fair Play Committee were quietly taken into custody at their family barracks. ... The resisters knew they risked five years in prison for bucking the draft, but violating the Selective Service Act was never a capital crime, never treason. No resistance leader at Heart Mountain was beaten bloody or hunted by guards", draft cards were not burned, and no newspaper articles affected the internment; notably Frankie would not have been taken to the infirmary by military police, which causes the key conflict in the show. Abe objects to the portrayal of the activities and treatment of the resisters, and to the "relentless optimism" of the score, concluding that the show distorts the historical lesson, diminishes the real impact of "the anger and suppressed rage" that the internees carried from the internment camps, and "risks supplanting the truth of the resistance and the Japanese American experience in the popular mind [and] cheapens the fabric of basic reality to achieve [commercial] ends."
An aged World War II veteran, Sam Kimura, prepares for a Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremony. A woman arrives to inform him that his estranged sister Kei has died, and that she is Kei's executor. She gives Sam an envelope and tells him that the funeral is to be held later that afternoon. Angered by the opening of his old family wounds after nearly 60 years of estrangement, he berates his once-beloved sister for not leaving him in peace. Kei's ghost informs Sam that she couldn't rest in peace without making one last attempt to reconnect with him.
It is 1941, and Sammy is a newly elected class president who dreams of "Going Places", like college and high political office. His widower father Tatsuo, and grandfather Ojii-chan, own a farm in Salinas, California. Sammy adores his older sister Kei, who has postponed her own dreams to help raise him. Tatsuo is always pushing Sammy to be better and reach his potential. Sammy believes that Tatsuo blames Sammy for his wife's death in childbirth. After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the US government fears that Japanese-Americans might be loyal to the Empire of Japan. The Japanese-Americans in the Western US are incarcerated in internment camps. Sammy's family is forced to sell their beautiful farm for a small price and sent to the bleak Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming.
While in this camp, and against his father's wishes, Sammy joins with Mike Masaoka, head of the Japanese American Citizens League, which cooperates with the authorities to identify "disloyal" Japanese. When his grandfather, Ojii-chan, becomes sick, Sammy goes to see the white Quaker volunteer nurse at the camp, Hannah, for some cough syrup. She tells him it is only for the staff, but Sammy is persuasive, and she gives him the medication. The two begin a relationship that causes additional tensions, because interracial marriage with Hannah would be illegal. Tatsuo is not inclined to cooperate. He is sent to a brutal prison for refusing to swear his allegiance by answering "yes" on an unjustly-worded loyalty questionnaire. Sammy's sister Kei falls in love with a draft resistance leader, Frankie Suzuki, and she also joins the resisters advocating for the rights of her people.
Masaoka manages to obtain Washington's permission for the Japanese-Americans to enlist in US armed forces, but only if they take on the most dangerous assignments in the war in Italy. Eager to prove his loyalty, Sammy enlists in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a US Army unit consisting of American-born sons of Japanese immigrants, and he fights bravely in Europe. He leads fellow Nisei on a suicide mission, in which the majority of the soldiers are killed. While in prison, Tatsuo is given a copy of Life magazine that trumpets Sammy's bravery in combat, and is told that he was only let out of his cell because of his son's actions.
Meanwhile, Kei and Frankie, who are still in love, help lead the resistance. Eventually, Frankie's scuffles with a military policeman lead to Hannah's accidental and fatal shooting. Grandpa Ojii-chan, who has managed to grow a crop of vegetables in the mountain's rough terrain, dies peacefully while in his garden. After the war, Sammy learns that Frankie and Kei, now married, have a daughter named Hanako (after nurse Hannah). Aghast at this, he confronts Tatsuo, saying that Frankie was the son he always wanted. Already furious at Kei and Frankie, he learns of Hannah's death at Heart Mountain and blames Kei and Frankie. He then walks away from his family for a job in Washington that Masaoka had offered him after discharge. Kei argues with Sammy, calling him a coward for leaving his family. She tries to stop him, but only manages to tear the Purple Heart off of his uniform.
Back in the present day, Sam opens the envelope and finds a posthumous bequest from Kei: the Life magazine featuring Sammy's exploits that Tatsuo had kept since his release from prison. Sam attends Kei's funeral, and Kei's executor thanks him for attending. The executor then says that her mother wanted to give Sam something else, and she hands him his old Purple Heart medal. He then realizes that the executor is his niece Hanako. He breaks down, aware that he has a chance to forgive and to share in the love and compassion of his family.
Allegiance had its first reading at the Japanese American National Museum on July 13, 2009 starring George Takei, Lea Salonga and others. It was followed by two more readings that were held in New York in 2010 with the same two, but this time with Telly Leung, among others. In the summer of 2011, a workshop was held for Allegiance at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. To commemorate the Japanese-American Day of Remembrance, the memorial for Japanese American Internment, George Takei took to Facebook to initiate a crowd funding campaign through IndieGoGo to raise funds for the show. The initial target was $50,000; the eventual total raised exceeded $158,000. The musical premiered in September 2012 at the Old Globe, directed by Stafford Arima and choreographed by Andrew Palermo, with designs by Donyale Werle (sets), Howell Binkley (lighting) and Alejo Vietti (costumes). It became the Old Globe's biggest box-office success in history. To help fund and publicize a Broadway run, the producers sold Allegiance "Priority Passes" in 2014 for five dollars. The pass allowed people to buy tickets before they were available to the general public.
The musical began previews on October 6, 2015 at Broadway's Longacre Theatre and opened officially on November 8, 2015. The production closed on February 14, 2016 after 37 previews and 111 regular performances. Regional productions began in 2018 in Los Angeles, by East West Players, again featuring Takei.
The Broadway cast album was released on January 29, 2016. A filmed performance of the Broadway production was screened at roughly 600 movie theatres in North America in December 2016, with encore screenings on the Japanese Day of Remembrance in February 2017. Additional screenings were held in 481 theatres on December 7, 2017, to coincide with the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, and in Hawaii on December 7 and 9, 2017.
Principal roles and original casts
|Character||San Diego (2012)||Original Broadway (2015)|
|Sam Kimura (present day) / "Ojii-chan" (Grandpa) (1940s)||George Takei|
|Kei Kimura||Lea Salonga|
|Sam Kimura (1940s)||Telly Leung|
|Frankie Suzuki||Michael K. Lee|
|Tatsuo Kimura||Paul Nakauchi||Christopheren Nomura|
|Hannah Campbell||Allie Trimm||Katie Rose Clarke|
|Mike Masaoka||Paolo Montalban||Greg Watanabe|
For the Old Globe production in 2012, critics felt the subject was important but the show required better execution. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Anne Marie Welsh concluded the "show needs a sharper emotional focus and musical edge to match its bold subject". For the San Diego Reader, critic Jeff Smith wrote "Right now, Allegiance is, at best, an 'important' musical. But it needs a great deal of rethinking and reshaping to become a good one."
Critical reception for the Broadway production was mixed. While the cast was often praised, especially Takei's characterization and Salonga's singing, the reviews frequently criticized poor execution of a worthy subject, especially the lyrics. "The majority of critics admired Allegiance's noble intentions to illuminate a dark corner of America’s past, but found the book melodramatic and the score derivative." Alexis Soloski of The Guardian called the musical "unexceptional though often affecting" and gave it three stars out of five. She liked some of the 1940s style songs but said of the ballads that "none of the melodies linger once the curtain has fallen and the lyrics pile on platitude and cliché."
Entertainment Weekly's review singled out Takei's performance as "providing much-needed islands of levity amidst a sea of sadness. ... Allegiance is an important show with a phenomenal cast, and it deserves to be seen." Rex Reed, in The New York Observer praised the book, score and direction, writing: "The [finale] brought tears to my eyes. The audience is overwhelmed. The screams are voluminous. The songs carry you aloft on wings of triumph, and the greatest cast of under-used Asian talents since Flower Drum Song and Pacific Overtures brings a cheering crowd to its feet every night with a standing ovation that is well deserved. Linda Winer in Newsday commented that the musical "carries its heavy baggage with a surprising lightness of spirit. ... The show has fully developed characters, a strong cast and a new story to tell in an old-fashioned way." The San Diego Union-Tribune, having reviewed the original production at the Old Globe in 2012, was more positive, feeling that the new production, "retains both its powerful story core and a good deal of its lush and melodic score, along with nearly all the top cast members from the original version. ... At its best, “Allegiance” gracefully shapes dramatic and historical contours into an epic that – in the spirit of gaman – coaxes a fierce beauty from once-poisoned soil." In a review that gave Allegiance 3 stars out of four, USA Today felt that even though the show, "is as corny as Kansas in August and as obvious as Lady Gaga on a red carpet ... [but] if you can make a critic who sneered in the first act leave the theater a little teary-eyed, you're probably doing something right." Deadline magazine called Allegiance "another significant addition to a Broadway season that offers an alternative take on the American experience. ... Validation is hardly the worst crime a show can commit, and I think that’s one reason the audience was cheering at the very moving end of the show. It’s a triumph of a rare sort, shedding light in a dark corner of our history with uncommon generosity of spirit."
In The New York Times, however, Charles Isherwood praised the performers but wrote: "The show wants to illuminate a dark passage in American history with complexity and honesty, but the first requirement of any Broadway musical is to entertain. While well-intentioned and polished, Allegiance struggles to balance both ambitions, and doesn’t always find an equilibrium." Variety felt that, despite good performances and designs, the well-intentioned story would have been better suited as a play, and that "In their sincere efforts to 'humanize' their complex historical material, the creatives have oversimplified and reduced it to generic themes." In a similar way, The Hollywood Reporter felt that as a musical, "the broad-strokes storytelling ... seems ill-suited to examining such complex issues, and the book's superficial character development doesn't help either." Michael Dale of BroadwayWorld.com admired the cast, but thought that "Allegiance, while certainly not a bad theatre piece, is an underachieving one." The large number of songs was seen as a problem by The Huffington Post, which noted: "Though Kuo has written a lot of it, the score just doesn't make the grade." Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press complained of jarring writing, commenting: "There are long periods of unrelenting misery, with families ripped from their homes and subjected to brutality by vindictive white soldiers. Then there's a song about the joys of baseball. That gives way to scenes with dangerous, choking dust storms, a dead baby and jail beatings. Then there is a happy sock hop." Critical of both the score and the script, Jesse Green of Vulture thought that outside of several moments, "too much of the show is devoted to far-fetched plot twists whose attempts to gin up excitement only look silly in the shadow of the larger forces at work." Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal praised Takei, Salonga and Arima's direction, and felt the set was worthy of a Tony Award, but criticized Kuo's score, and deemed the show "of no artistic value whatsoever, save as an object lesson in how to write a really bad Broadway musical."
Major awards and nominations
|2012||Craig Noel Award||Outstanding New Musical||Won|
|Best Featured Performance by a Male||Michael K. Lee||Won|
|Best Orchestrations||Lynne Shankel||Won|
|Best Featured Performance by a Female||Lea Salonga||Nominated|
|Best Director||Stafford Arima||Nominated|
|2016||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Costume Design of a Musical||Alejo Vietti||Nominated|
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