Broadway Review: Allegiance
There's a song I used to sing for auditions called "Random Black Girl" that is a comedic commentary on how black people are limited in the parts they may play on Broadway. There's a line in the song that speaks to the only people who have it worse than us are Asian Americans, which is entirely true. With Flower Drum Song, Miss Saigon, The King & I and South Pacific being some of the only major musicals that have featured Asian Americans, it was about time that a new story was told that could be broad to a wider audience.
Cut to October 2015, and a dream to bring a musical about the Japanese interment camps (a part of history America likes to forget) was finally realized when Jay Kuo, Lorenzo Thione and Marc Acito's story was brought to life on the Longacre Theatre stage. I've been on a huge kick lately to point out and discover representation of people of color in the entertainment world, and Allegiance is an amazing example of a chance for Asian Americans to tell their story and for young actors to see that it's possible for them to be on stage and sing beautiful music and show history for what it really was.
The show opens with a family putting up wishes on a tree. Kei (played by the beautiful and talented Lea Salonga), has taken upon herself the matriarch role in the family after her mother died giving birth to her brother Sam (played by the equally talented Telly Leung). Their grandfather (played by the hilarious George Takei) leads the family through loving proverbs and funny quips. When the war begins, all people in America of Japanese heritage were forced into internment camps, including the fictional family that the musical includes.
Frustrated by their situation, the family tries to make the most of it by sticking together through their unfortunate situation. At the camp, Kei meets the rebellious Frankie (played by the brilliant Michael K. Lee) and they fall in love. Meanwhile, Sam falls in love with Nurse Hannah (played by Katie Rose Clarke) and the two couples face their own issues as they continue to survive through the horrifying nature of the camp. Sam eventually goes off to war to fight for the right for America to show that the Japanese people are not traitors.
There were definitely a few stand out moments for me in this show. Firstly, Michael K. Lee, who played Frankie was stunning to watch. His energy was addicting and he had perhaps the most memorable musical number of the night, "Paradise." (Watch below)
In the midst of the second act, there was a cinematically gorgeous scene echoing the bombings of Japan, which through lighting and haunting choral voices made for a very emotional scene that ended with a giant flash of light that transitioned immediately into an upbeat dance number about the end of the war. What I liked about this moment, was not only the juxtaposition of the sad to the joyful, but that the audience almost didn't have time to take in what just happened, much like the people of the time.
All of a sudden the war was over and thousands of people dead and injured and then an assumed happiness was supposed to magically appear and all be forgiven by those persecuted, right? The USO soldiers sang a sarcastic tune about how everything's supposed to be fine now and what they did wan't terrible, which is truly how America seems to like to take care of things. It took over 40 years after the war for the people who suffered in the internment camps to get their reparations, but most of those people were dead before they could live to see an apology.
The end of the show did indeed leave me in tears. In true Broadway fashion it was slightly predictable what would happen, but that's the case when a story formula is continually used over and over again, but it's been proven to work, so why mess with it? In an ending that reunited all with a sense of hope and happiness for the future, I felt so inspired and enjoyed at the thought that aspiring young Asian actors have a recent musical that they can own and feel confident about potentially being a part of someday, and that made me overjoyed.
Young girls will be able to hear Lea Salonga's beautiful love songs and think that they too can sing that for an audition or perhaps play that part some day. Asian males who dream of being more than just the comic relief can now have a song like "What Makes A Man," (watch below) and see that there are possibilities to be a strong character onstage. Representation is so, so, so important and I just can't stress how much I am pleased to see a story like this being told.
My only critiques were that many of the love songs sounded almost too similar to each other throughout the show so they weren't quite memorable to me. Sam and Hannah's relationship seemed almost a little too forced. I wanted to see more intensity, especially since it was an interracial love, which was still forbidden at the time (which wasn't the focus of the show, but still something that holds worth and struggle). Other than that, the sets were simple but lovely and the special effects truly made the show stand out.
If you live near New York or are coming for a visit, I highly suggest this show. Tickets can be found here, and there is a lottery and rush tickets available as well. It's especially a must see for all those with family connects to the internment camps or those interested in the untold history of the time. It may seem like a sad subject to have a musical be about, but it truly is an uplifting story and one that could easily be told through song.
Disclaimer: I am an employee of the company that is promoting and producing Allegiance and therefore received comp tickets to the performance. However, all opinions are my own and not sponsored by the production.