Review: ‘Allegiance’, remembering a story about resilience from our fellow Americans
For Americans who lived through World War II, today marks the anniversary of their country being thrown into the most devastating war in the last decade, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
For the Japanese Americans that lived on the Pacific coast, this day also marks the day they became victims of racial intolerance and discrimination. After Imperial Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed the military to incarcerate Japanese Americans into internment camps.
The story of the internment camps is told in the Broadway musical Allegiance which premiered last month in Manhattan’s Longacre Theatre. Directed by Stafford Arima and written by George Takei, the musical gives the narrative of the Kimura family, who are forced out of their home in Salinas, California and into an internment camp located in the mountains of Wyoming following the Pearl Harbor attacks. Takei said the musical is loosely based and inspired by his own personal experiences.
The Kimura family is made up of Sam (Telly Leung), the headstrong and confident son, willing to fight in the war in order to prove his loyalty to America, his sister Kei (Lea Salonga), a outspoken and brave soul who raised her brother after their mother’s passing and Ojii-San (George Takei), their optimistic grandfather with an enormous heart who often serves as the story’s comic relief. The cast also includes Katie Rose Clarke as Nurse Hannah, Michael K Lee as Frankie Suzuki, the leader of the draft resistance, and Greg Watanabe, who portrays real-life figure Mike Masaoka, a member of the Japanese American Citizens League who aided in helping the imprisoned Japanese Americans.
The catchy songs, period costumes, designed by Alejo Vietti, and changing set designs of the Heartland Mountain internment camp to the war zones all work together to grab the audience’s attention. “Gaman,” the title of one of the songs, is a Japanese term that translates to “keep faith and endure,” which seems to become the musical’s mantra and overarching theme. Some other standouts include Ojii-San’s “Ish Kara Ishi,” a song about perseverance, in which he reminds the audience that mountains can be moved “stone by stone.” Kei’s “Higher” solo also shows off Salonga’s distinct and powerhouse vocals.
Other than a few brief scenes, the show also does not depict the grueling or horrific acts of injustices that took place, which keeps it from becoming too dark. The musical also strays away from becoming a history lecture. Instead, it captures the unfaltering spirit and resilience of the victims and families in the face of evil. This is seen through the portrayal of the characters— primarily in Salonga’s portrayal of Kei and Takei’s Ojii-San.
In two hours, the show manages to fit in two romantic relationships, the first one between Sam and Nurse Hannah, and the second between Frankie and Kei, whose peaceful ways turn radical after she falls in love with him. While at times, it feels like the same generic formula, the actors’ charm and chemistry between the characters keep the plot from becoming too cliché. While these romantic relationships initially signify how love can still be found during the most difficult of times, they are complex and contribute to the source of conflict for the plot, leading up to the emotional climax of the show.
Ultimately, the performance from the cast drive the musical, making for a heartfelt retelling of the past that affected many Japanese-Americans during a fragile time in history. It also examines the themes of family and loyalty, and serves as a tribute to commemorate all the families whose lives were affected during the internment. The title Allegiance itself can be interpreted in many different ways, whether it is the act of being loyal to your country, your family or to yourself.
Today, as we reminisce and honor the victims of the Pearl Harbor attacks, the soldiers who fought during World War II, and the Japanese-American families who suffered tremendous pain and suffering during their incarceration, remember: gaman.