Allegiance, the new Broadway musical currently playing at the Longacre Theatre, isn’t perfect. But neither is America’s track record when it comes to minority populations. Our country is currently in heated debates over our Muslim communities, some even calling for mandatory “databases,” in response to the recent ISIS attacks in Paris.
“The sense we get now is that it’s not only worse for Arabs and Muslims,” said Abed Ayoub, national policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, in a recent article on CNN. “The sense we get now is that it’s worse for all immigrant and brown communities as a whole.”
This fearful temperament shows that, yes, history has the potential to repeat itself. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order that would relocate “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both citizens and aliens, inland, outside of the Pacific military zone. The objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had strong anti-Japanese attitudes,” according to the National Archives.
This dark stain in American history, and the personal experiences of George Takei, serve as inspiration for Allegiance, which follows the journey of siblings Kei (Lea Salonga) and Sammy (Telly Leung) Kimura, as they are forced, along with their father Tatsuo (Christòpheren Nomura) and grandfather Ojii-chan (George Takei) to move to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in northwest Wyoming.
During their confinement, Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe), an executive with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) attempts to leverage the rights of Japanese Americans through various recommendations, including segregating troublemakers such as Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee) and others enraged by the government’s actions. Within the camp, there are varying degrees of animosity and compassion, including nurse Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke), who falls under Sammy’s convincing spell after a number of visits to the infirmary in his quest to obtain medication for this grandfather. Another love interest develops between Kei and Frankie during the course of their internment, and the two storylines weave throughout broader historical happenings, which include the valiant efforts of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—a segregated unit of Japanese-Americans assigned on a mission to the Vosges Mountains of France.
With a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, and music by Jay Kuo, Allegiance is both intimate and sweeping in scope. Director Stafford Arima (Broadway debut) keeps the action moving at a swift pace with the help of scenic (Donyale Werle) and projection (Darrel Maloney) designs that seamlessly transform from one locale to the next.
Unfortunately, other elements have needlessly been polished to a Broadway shine, which undermines the story’s truthfulness. Costumes by Alejo Vietti are crisp, vibrant, and period specific, but too picture-perfect for those living under such harsh conditions. Andrew Palermo’s choreography, too, unnecessarily dazzles in several flashy production numbers (“Get in the Game” feels like it was lifted from the short-lived TV series, Smash). And while the show’s book manages to encapsulate multiple storylines, it unfolds in a linear and literal manner that occasionally lacks dramatic tension.
The acting ensemble led by the deep-voiced and endearing Takei, is clearly dedicated to the piece. Along with Takei; Salonga, Leung, and Lee appeared in the production’s 2012 world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre. Allegiance, above all, has heart. And though it sometimes feels as though it’s been molded to fit a preconceived idea of what a Broadway show “should” look like, the musical’s relevance is a haunting reminder of how fragile and fleeting our freedom can be.
Here’s what the other critics are saying…
“Directed in workmanlike fashion by Stafford Arima, “Allegiance” has a complicated story to unfold and to humanize. It does a reasonable job of providing a nuanced view of events, the occasional swerve into melodrama notwithstanding. Some scholars of Japanese-American history have objected to unnecessary factual inaccuracies, but the musical, which bills itself as being “inspired” by actual events (and in part by Mr. Takei’s own experience in another camp), need not be held to the standards of strict documentary.
If anything, the authors, feeling the responsibility of illuminating this shameful chapter in American history, pack the show with so much incident and information that “Allegiance” often feels more like a history lesson than a musical. A singing history lesson, yes, but a history lesson nonetheless.” New York Times
“Ultimately what wins you over is the heart to heart connection. That stupid simple journey of the soul to find its path and the others who will share it. You could be separated by time and space, then tossed back together without a hesitation. Some loves you win. Others you lose. It is indeed a crazy game of allegiance everywhere you look – but it is ours, and who would ever think of giving it up.” New York Theatre Guide
“The show isn’t bombastic or preachy, though some may find the well-structured book—written by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione—too earnest. Kuo’s serviceable score is loaded with anthems, simple melodic lines and some obvious rhymes, with a few lighthearted ’40s boogie-woogy numbers to signify Americana. Although we hear enticing Japanese flute and percussion between scenes, this more “Le Miz”-lite pop opera than a fusion of musical cultures.” Newsday
228 West 48th Street
Open ended run.
Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.