Review by Tulis McCall
17 November 2015
I pledge allegiance to the flag… how many times has that phrase flowed trippingly off your tongue? And when it did, were you telling the real truth or were you just saying what you had learned? Allegiance, based on George Takei‘s experience in an internment camp for Japanese Americans in WWII, will leave you thinking about loyalty and honor – which are the primary ingredients of allegiance.
Allegiance is a down home musical that is so American it will make your head spin. Funny, though, how these Americans don’t look like most of what we see on TV… Funny, too, how this is a story that was wiped from the history books that all the white folks at the head of the bread line deemed appropriate. After Pearl Harbor Japanese citizens by the thousands were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. Why? Because Japan was our enemy and PS we whites could not tell them apart – you know, the way we could the Italians and the Germans, who were never interned.
At these camps – where the toilets were public and the walls were nearly porous – the Japanese arrived carrying only what they could carry. They had lost their homes, their businesses and their communities. They would spend 5 years in the camps. When the war was over they would be given a bus ticket and $25. They would be expected to carry on. And they did.
Before the days of Social Media, when a police shooting could be seen by millions of people before the gun has cooled down, if you were on the wrong side of the powers you were pretty much SOL. The Kimura family: Kei (Lea Salonga), her brother Sammy (Telly Yeung), her father Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura) and her grandfather Ojii-chan (George Takei) face their dilemma like Maria and the Captain took on the mountains between Germany and Switzerland. They keep a stiff upper lip. And they sing. They sing of wishes tied to trees that beg the wind to carry them off. They sing of coming of age and the rage that comes with it. They sing of love and spirit and hope. They sing of shattering despair.
The linear story is of Kei and Sammy (Mr. Takei plays him as an old war vet at the top and conclusion of this piece). Sammy is the first college graduate of his family. Kei, although being acknowledged as the brains of the family farm, is, after all, just a girl. After their mother died giving birth to Sammy it was Kei who raised him while their father stayed aloof and resentful. Just as Sammy graduates, and their artichoke farm is blooming – Pearl Harbor changes everything. Sammy and his people are stripped down to their souls, and made to face life that is a punishment and a gift at the same time. What person is that strong to live through that and bear no grudge. Mr. Takei, who was 5 years old when he went to the camps with his family, had parents who were that strong. That strength has been passed on to him.
Allegiance is more of an operetta than a musical. As such the characters find their voices in the music. There is little in the dialog that is remarkable or revealing. There is an interracial love story that livens up the plot, but other than that the story and the blocking are fairly predictable. Which is not to say boring. Because it is the music that tells the tale, and the music is quite wonderful. Jay Kuo has given us such a panoply of styles that after a while you just give up and go with it. Unlike other musicals that rely on repetition and motif, Kuo gives us good old fashioned Broadway: inspiration, jazzy tunes, and love ballads. In addition there is some spectacular choreography by Andrew Palermo that melds the Japanese and western worlds.
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. Bring a kleenex or two and be prepared to shed a tear not only for these characters but for the shame of what we did to an entire race – all because we could not take the time to look at them long enough to tell them apart. And of course for Takei, who held this story in his heart for over 70 years, and has released it, like those Wishes on the Wind, at precisely the right moment.
"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."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"The show is stuck on impulse power...Allegiance also wants to make a significant statement. But it's too tangled to say very much."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The heavy-handed, cliche-driven "Allegiance" tries to take on all three - but does so unsuccessfully in a bombastic and generic Broadway musical. It has an ambitious agenda - touching on pride, citizenship, degradation, interracial romance, bravery and honor - and it's too much."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"But the powerful sentiments involved are too often flattened by the pedestrian lyrics and unmemorable melodies of Jay Kuo's score, making an unconvincing case for this material's suitability to be a musical."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"The strength of "Allegiance" is in the story. Not the musical's book, which is no more than serviceable, but the disturbing real-life events behind it."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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