SpeakEasy's "Allegiance": It Can't Happen Here Again

The Cast of "Allegiance"
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

At the heart of Allegiance, the 2015 Broadway musical, is the oriental concept of gaman, or “endurance with dignity and fortitude”. The show ran for about a hundred performances, and is the current offering by SpeakEasy Stage Company, directed by Paul Daigneault in its New England premiere. On Broadway, it received mixed notices for its Book (though surprisingly focused given that it was written by three people, Jay Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione) and Score (with Lyrics and Music by Kuo), but was nonetheless recognized for its originality. The musical was first created by, directed by, starred and was presented from the point of view of predominantly Asian-Americans, a first for Broadway. This production, a streamlined version, still speaks (and sings) strongly of the story of the fate of Asian-Americans at the start of World War II.

Grace Yoo & Sam Tanabe in "Allegiance"
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

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), praised for its 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 Ojii-chan (Gary Thomas Ng), 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 Tatsuo (Ron Domingo), his granddaughter Kei (Grace Yoo), in love with Frankie Suzuki (Tyler Simahk), and young grandson Sammy (Sam Tanabe), who falls for military nurse Hannah Campbell (Melissa Geerlof). Also featured is the real-life character of Mike Masaoka (Michael Hisamoto). As were some 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent, they were presented with a “loyalty questionnaire” which some refused to sign on principle. Some, like Frankie, were so enraged by this pledge that they organized 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.

Gary Thomas Ng, Grace Yoo, Ron Domingo & Sam Tanabe in "Allegiance"
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

Critical reaction to the Broadway version seems in retrospect to have been unduly harsh, though 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. It has a somewhat melodramatic book devoid of subtlety and a sometimes derivative score, but strong performances from Yoo and Ng, and an ensemble who sang quite well together, compensate. The creative elements include Scenic Design by Eric Levenson, Costume Design by Miranda Kau Giurleo, Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will, and Lighting Design by Daniel H. Jentzen, all professional, and the energetic choreography by Ilyse Robbins is amazing for such a small stage. A work with so much heart (admittedly too often on its sleeve) deserves to be seen.

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?

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