by Mariah Castillo
Earlier this semester, my friend asked me if I wanted discount tickets to a Broadway musical. When I found it the musical was Allegiance, my immediate response was “YAAAAASSSS.” I follow George Takei on Facebook and Instagram, and I’ve been watching the show come to life on Broadway through my computer screen. Allegiance has been on my “To-Watch” List for a few months.
I wanted to see Allegiance for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to miss a chance to see Lea Salonga return to Broadway. I finally get to see and hear in person one of the biggest musical influences in my life. As a child, I was told by my Tito’s and Tita’s (Uncles and Aunts- not always by blood) that I sounded like Salonga, and after seeing Allegiance, I can tell you, reader, that they were lying—me singing my best wouldn’t even come close to her singing at her worst (if she even has a “worst”). There was such power and emotion in her voice, none of the artists I’ve come seen in the shows I’ve seen before could ever compare.
The second and biggest reason I wanted to see the show was its basis. Allegiance is inspired by Takei’s childhood experiences at the Japanese internment camps during World War II. This shameful chapter of American history is usually skipped or mentioned in one sentence in high school history books, and it is just one of several events that are purposely “forgotten.” As a Filipina growing up in America, for example, the most I’ve been taught in school about Filipino-American relations was that the United States benevolently freed the Philippines from Spanish rule in the late 19th century. It was only when I researched the Filipino-American War in depth last year that I realized the motives and following events were less than benevolent. After learning about Allegiance coming to this part of the world, and trusting that this topic will be explored in a sensitive manner, I knew I had to support a representation of one of America’s forgotten histories. To many who may not know a lot about Japanese internment, Allegiance is one way to understand its many unsettling facets.
Allegiance tells the tale of the family of Sam Kimura. It first starts in more recent times, where Sam, now an old veteran (played by Takei), learns that his older sister, Kei (Salonga), has passed away. Sam then reluctantly reflects on his past, and we are sent back to the 1940’s. Already, we can see some tension in the Kimura family. A young Sammy (played by Telly Leung) wants to fight in the United States Army, fully embracing American life. His father, Tatsuo, firmly wants to stick to Japanese tradition. Kei plays the mediator between the two, trying to keep the Kimura family together despite the warring ideologies, and Ojii-chan (or “grandpa,” played by Takei) offers a nice balance of humor and wisdom through the duration of the show.
After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans are forcibly moved into internment camps. In the camp, the living conditions are horrible, and racist soldiers are always watching, not unwilling to use physical violence on the Japanese; many of the scenes that had the soldiers in them gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach.
After the war is over, the family is happily reunited in California, but not for long. Sammy learns Kei married the leader of the draft resistance movement at the camp, and, after the horrors and sacrifices he made in the war, feels betrayed. After an argument with Kei, Sammy goes to Washington, D.C., never seeing Kei since. It is only decades later, at Kei’s funeral, that Sam reconciles with the remaining family he has left.
What made the Kimura family relatable to me, and hopefully to many first-generation and second-generation immigrants, is the tension between their culture and the worldview of the country they live in. I sympathize with Sammy, who openly embraces American culture, Tatsuo, who left his home in hopes for a better life for his family, and Kei, who integrates both cultures in her life. No one in the family is vilified, despite the members’ stubbornness in their ways, and even when war becomes a reality, they continue show their love and care for each other.
The show had a good mix of songs; from energetic dance numbers to soulful ballads, with a perfect blend of Japanese and American sounds, the music moved me. My favorite song from the musical has to be Salonga’s solo, “Higher.” Even listening to it on Spotify today gives me chills. Many of the songs brought me to tears, in a good way of course; by the end of the show I needed a few moments to collect myself because I couldn’t stop crying. I know I wasn’t the only one, as I could hear people behind me sniffling.
The stage was also effectively used. Many scene changes relied on people, even the performers themselves, moving set pieces around, which I found interesting. The lighting and sound was spot on. My only complaint would be the show’s reproduction of the nuclear bomb being dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ever growing noise of an airplane engine and the bright flash of light was a bit overbearing to my senses, and I don’t recall seeing or hearing any warning about it beforehand; it might be a problem to the veterans and servicemen watching the show, and, believe me, there were many of them who watched.
I came into the Longacre Theatre wanting to see my idol and wanting to experience an account of a chapter of America’s history people are too comfortable to ignore, and I came out of the theatre with all of that and more. I highly, highly recommend everyone to watch it!
Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter
Mariah Castillo is a senior at Barnard and Senior Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing Blog.