|Fathom Events' "Allegiance"|
(photo: Matthew Murphy)
At the heart of Allegiance, the 2015 Broadway musical, is the oriental concept of gaman, or “endurance with dignity and fortitude”. The show, an obvious labor of love on the part of all concerned, ran for about a hundred performances, and was recently given an HD broadcast in movie theaters across the nation. It received mixed notices for its Book (surprisingly well-constructed given that it was written by three people, Jay Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Theone) and Score (with Lyrics and Music by Kuo), but was nonetheless recognized for its originality. The musical was created by, directed by, starred and was presented from the point of view of predominantly Asian-Americans, a first for Broadway. Though the story it tells focuses on a fictional family, the Kimuras, it's a composite based on true-life experiences by Japanese-Americans just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, including the family of George Takei (of “Star Trek” fame). Director Stafford Arima was also praised for his portrayal of a family's varied but dignified endurance to a reprehensible period in our nation's history.
The story begins with a flashback as the Kimuras, headed by patriarch Ogii-san (a wonderful Takei), are forced to move from their home in Salinas, California to an internment camp near Heart Mountain in Wyoming. The family consists of his son Tatsuro (the beautifully-voiced Christopheren Nomuka), his granddaughter Kei (an incandescent Lea Salonga), in love with Frankie Suzuki (the talented Michael K. Lee), and young grandson Sammy (exciting new discovery Telly Leung), who falls for military nurse Hannah Campbell (an appealing Kate Rose Clarke). Also featured is the real-life character of Mike Masaoka (a conflicted Greg Watanabe). As were some 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, they are presented with a “loyalty questionnaire” which some refuse to sign on principle. Some, like Frankie, are so enraged by this pledge that they organize a camp revolt. And therein lie a few plot points best not divulged here. On Broadway, about 120,000 people saw the musical, the same number of those interned. Hopefully many more will have opportunities to experience the work in the future, perhaps on PBS, a logical home.
Critical reaction to the show seems in retrospect to have been unduly harsh. There is in the development of the story line a repeated tendency to inject a happy number right after a real downer, so it might have been more successful as a straight play without music, since there are some major issues addressed. Its somewhat melodramatic book and sometimes derivative score didn't help, though the performances carry the day. The creative elements include Choreography by Andrew Palermo, Scenic Design by Donyale Werle, Costume Design by Alejo Vietti, Sound Design by Kai Harada, and Projection Design by Darrel Maloney. All deserve to have their contributions more widely seen, especially for a work with so much heart (admittedly too often on its sleeve). It's a triumph for Takei especially, but Solonga shares in the glory, as does Leung with his matinee idol looks (now on display in a just-opened musical, In Transit, Broadway's first a cappella musical).
Of course, it couldn't happen here anymore. We as a country have grown, to a place in which no group would ever be denied entrance, registered, rounded up or restricted based on their beliefs, appearance or ethnicity. Oh, wait.....
Perhaps the French saying is correct: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose; that is, the more things change, the more they remain the same?