By Diana Saenger
Sometimes it’s necessary as a culture to take a journey back in history and further examine severe actions that might have been avoided. That’s a tale The Old Globe Theatre tells in its world premiere of “Allegiance: A New American Musical.”
Directed by Stafford Arima, the story begins during the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Particularly affected by this observance is Sam Kimura (George Takei). He’s a WW II Veteran whose family was put in an internment camp. It’s his recollections that recount this era and the rift between loyalty to family and allegiance to country. Telly Leung plays the younger Sammy Kimura.
Lea Salonga, Tony and Olivier award-winner for her roles in “Miss Saigon,” portrays Kei Kimura, Sam’s sister. She’s not so willing to go along with the crowd and instead joins a group of activists. Salonga said she’s excited to be part of this production.
“This piqued my curiosity because this was an Asian/American-centered story about Japanese-American interment that wasn’t widely circulated or told as far as American history was concerned,” she said. “Then when I got the script, I enjoyed the humor in it and also the music.”
“Allegiance” is a traditional musical with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. “It’s a mix. When the words people are saying gets too emotional, then the actors burst into song,” said Salonga, who has an impressive resume of theatrical work. In films she provided the singing voice for the character of Princess Jasmine in the movies of “Aladdin” and Fa Mulan in “Mulan.”
Her own talents notwithstanding, Salonga said she is humbled by her peers’ talent and finds Takei a pleasure to work with. “He’s revered on one hand, but on the other he’s just one of the boys. He has a great sense of humor. Not only is he an Asian-American Hollywood figurehead, but this story is personal to him.”
Takei and his family were among 120,000 Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in U.S. internment camps at the outbreak of World War II. It was hearing Takei’s recollections of his family’s story that inspired Kuo and Thione to create the story of the Japanese American internment.
“I get to stretch my acting muscles in this production, like when the musical supervisor says something like, ‘fight against the prettiness of the song and make it rougher, more conversational.’ It takes work to keep the emotional content intact, and the storytelling of this poignant story is at the forefront of what we are doing here.”
Along with enjoying the music of the show, it’s also a cautionary tale set in 1941 that Salonga said is precedented in paranoia and fear.
“Here is an entire group of people who just because of their ancestry, are immediately tagged as the enemy. There’s a dialogue in the show that refers to 9/11, in that if you have a Muslim last name or your parents are from a Muslin country, you’re immediately sensed as the enemy. So this production really speaks to that saying. ‘If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”