Saturday, September 29, 2012

ALLEGIANCE, A New Musical and a Story to Remember

Lea Solanga, Telly Leung, George Takei and Paul Nakauchi.
Photos by Henry Di Rocco

Early in Allegiance – A New American Muscial, a frightened young mother acknowledges George Takei’s character, Ojii-San, with a single word - gaman. “It means endurance with dignity,” says Kei (Lea Solanga) when her brother Sam (Telly Leung) asks about the word. The time is 1942. The scene is the train station where thousands of Japanese American families are being removed from their homes and transferred to internment camps. Among them is the Kimura family and it is through their eyes that we view a chapter in our history that Takei has personally pledged to bring to the world because he lived it. 

Approximately 120,000 Japanese people, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were affected by FDR’s Executive Order 9066 signed in February 1942. The decree authorized what would become the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast under the guise of military necessity. In actuality it was fueled by racial prejudice, fear, jealousy, and a misuse of political power. They had no ties to Japan, indeed many were second generation (nissei), born to first generation immigrants (issei) who had left Japan years before looking for a new beginning. But the bomb had been dropped on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ participation in World War II had begun. Gaman would be the quality needed by many to get through the next harsh years.

Creators Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione have chosen to tell the story of Allegiance by following the experiences of one family, the Kimoras (Solanga and Leung as brother and sister, Paul Nakauchi as their father, and Takei as their grandfather), as they struggle to survive in a world that now sees them as the enemy. By using musical theatre as the vehicle to tell the story they also create an emotional connection with the audience that has even more impact because of music’s inherent ability to reach directly into a person’s heart. 

Kuo’s songs, magnificently orchestrated by Lynne Shankel, are filled with beautiful melodies and lyrics that time and again express the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings. From Sam’s idealistically optimistic “Going Places” to Kei’s intensely personal reflection of her life in “Higher,” he draws us in to that place of connection on a human level so we can feel right along with the characters. The delicacy of “Ishi Kara Ishi” sung by Ojii-San to Kei is one of the musical’s sweetest moments as Takei reminds her how a mountain can be moved, stone by stone. The same can be said of Allegiance as it educates people about the Japanese internment and moves them, scene by scene.

Michael K. Lee and Lea Solanga

Other musical highlights include Frankie’s cynical “Paradise,” (by the terrific Michael K. Lee) and the ensemble’s chilling a capella version of “Tojaku-Ya,” sung as the U.S drops the bomb on Hiroshima. The scene also includes one of the most stunning visual effects created by Darrel Maloney as the nuclear cloud billows over to engulf the stage.

Donyale Werle’s abstract set of moving shoji screens and fragmented broken images is breathtaking in scope and beautiful in its artistic complexity, providing an ingenious canvas for his projections and Howell Binkley’s intricate lighting. Heightened by Jonathan Deans' sound design and Laura Bergquist’s music direction, the musical soars to life as the layers of inner conflict are revealed.

In the end, however, it is the truly outstanding cast that elevates this story to something transformational. Director Stafford Arima’s focus on the relationships between family members reaffirms that each person’s perspective is as unique and worthy as it is complicated and distressing. And the cast is a shining example of talent, determination, and heart that will undoubtedly move mountains with the show’s journey as well.

Lea Solanga and George Takei

Solanga is radiant and, if you can imagine it, sings with a voice that is even richer and more beautiful than ever before. Leung is adorable as the all-American boy who represents the optimism of youth and Nakauchi, as their father, exemplifies character in the highest sense of the word. Takei is funny and heartbreaking – and for all the many wonderful moments in the show – owns the one single moment that came out of the blue, punched me in the stomach, and moved me to tears in an instant. Thank you, Mr. Takei, for that. In a musical about relationships set against the fallout of war, it is one I will never forget.

The great opportunity of the past is that we learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them. Allegiance – A New American Musical is an important story in our country’s history and one that deserves to be heard. May none of us ever forget. 

Allegiance – A New American Musicalextended through October 28, The Old Globe, Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets: Call (619) 23-GLOBE or visit www.theoldglobe.org.


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