NOTE: A full version of this post with more from Takei as well as cast members and producer, as well as videos from the musical, was originally published on Dec. 7, 2015.
After a November performance at the Longacre Theatre in New York’s fabled Broadway district, George Takei and other cast members answered questions about their powerful musical, “Allegiance.”
“I remember we started the school day, each day, with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my school house window as I recited the words, ‘with liberty, and justice for all.’”
Takei recalled his experience as a child, sent with his entire family to a concentration camp along with more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II – including, like Takei, half who were born in the US and therefore American citizens.
At age 78, Takei made his Broadway debut in the musical, which tells the story of Japanese American incarceration inspired by Takei’s childhood. The parallels between the 1940s incarceration and the national mood today are striking. Talk of banning Muslims, and citing the Japanese American incarceration of 75 years ago as a “precedent” for creating a Muslim registry, rings some serious alarms for anyone who’s studied the wartime injustice.
Takei has spoken out eloquently on his vast social media networks in response to the current hate-filled climate.
Educating the public about what happened to Japanese Americans, who were removed from the West Coast and sent to nine concentration camps as far east as Arkansas, is one of Takei’s lifelong goals. His family spent the war years in Rowher, Arkansas.
“I’m always shocked when I tell the story (of Japanese American incarceration) to people that I consider well-informed,” he said, “and they’re shocked and aghast that sometime like this could happen in the United States. It’s still little-known. So, it’s been my mission to raise the awareness of this chapter of American history.”
“Allegiance” accomplished Takei’s goal with Broadway grandeur that matches any hit musical, with songs that soar and tug at heartstrings, tight choreography and a storyline that is familiar to many Japanese Americans, but not to the public at large.
The musical ran for several months on Broadway. And now, it’s being screened across the country in movie theaters on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
The script follows the life of Sam Kimura, with the opening scene featuring Takei as an aged Kimura learning that his sister has died. Then the narrative flashes back to pre-war California, where the Japanese American community thrived, until Japan attacked on Pearl Harbor. The play shifts to the emotional and cultural ties that bind families together – and sometimes tear them apart.
Takei plays the role of the grandfather, who remains a wise blithe spirit in spite of the family’s hardships. The young Sam Kimura is played by Telly Leung. Lea Salonga, best-known for her Tony-winning lead role in “Miss Saigon,” plays the young Sam’s sister Kei.
The cast is excellent — Salonga in particular is a show-stopper of a singer, and a pleasure to watch. And Takei, who’s a TV and film actor, is a fine baritone in his musical.
The production was not only Takei’s Broadway debut; it was historic because it was the first to ever make it to the Great White Way with a mostly Asian American cast, and Asian Americans behind the scenes as director, producers, writers and composer. It’s not a view of Asians through a white perspective (“Miss Saigon,” “Pacific Overtures”). It’s an Asian American story told by Asian Americans.
The musical ran for several months in New York and closed earlier this year, with as yet no plans for a touring company. But thanks to a deal with Fathom Events, the company that brings everything from Metropolitan Opera shows to Rolling Stones concert films to cinemas, national audiences get a onetime chance to see the musician in a special broadcast at movie theaters on December 13, 7:30 local time.
It’s worth seeing: “This story is so important, because it’s so relevant to our times today, where in our presidential nominating campaign, we have candidates who with a broad brush, paints all immigrants coming from south of the border, as criminals and rapists,” said Takei in an interview last fall.
“We have the issue of Black Lives Matter, where young men, who happen to be African American, are seen as threatening to law enforcement officers and they could be shot at with impunity. It is a very relevant story, when a whole race of people are just assumed to be enemies.”
His hope, Takei said, is that “Allegiance” “starts off a lot of other conversations about this chapter of American history.”
And, makes audiences think about how its lessons can be applied today.
In the Denver area, 11 theaters are screening the musical on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 pm: http://fathomevents.com/event/allegiance.