Allegiance (*** out of four stars), the new musical that opened Sunday at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, is as corny as Kansas in August and as obvious as Lady Gaga on a red carpet. But darned if it won't get a grip on your heartstrings. The flawed but defiantly moving show, which marks the Broadway debut of beloved Star Trek actor and social media darling George Takei, tackles an underexplored dark chapter in our history: the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
ALLEGIANCE Broadway Reviews
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The knowledge that the story was inspired by Takei's childhood hardships in the Japanese-American "relocation centers" of World War II adds significantly to the emotional impact. But the powerful sentiments involved are too often flattened by the pedestrian lyrics and unmemorable melodies of Jay Kuo's score, making an unconvincing case for this material's suitability to be a musical...Nonetheless, writers Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thomas have woven together a plot that's admirable in its bid to shine a light on the injustices committed against 120,000 West Coast Americans of Japanese descent, by focusing on the festering discord within one such family.
Plays and movies about history's most heinous episodes of discrimination are never easy. Too often they collapse under the weight of stereotypes that make the villains all bad and the heroes mere victims. "Allegiance," the new musical that opened Sunday at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, avoids this problem by putting only three guardsmen-soldiers on stage, and in very supporting roles.
For its unusual subject matter, "Allegiance" mirrors the structure of classic musicals, with operatic ballads and humorous diversions ("I Oughta Go" offers one fanciful bit of slapstick). As for Takei, he gets out of his own way here, to potent effect. As Ojii-chan, he helps convey the idea of "Gaman," a Zen Buddhist term that means "endurance with dignity," a guiding principle pertinent to the daily lives of the interned. In scenes that bookend "Allegiance," set a half-century after most of the story, Takei plays Sammy as an elderly man.
The show, though, retains both its powerful story core and a good deal of its score, along with nearly all the top cast members from the original version... If there's one aspect of this new "Allegiance" that gives pause, it's a nagging sense the creators felt compelled on occasion to dial up the emotional pitch for Broadway with big, earnest ensemble numbers, instead of simply trusting the story material to deliver its potent impact.
In a Broadway season that is shaping up as one to feature far more diversity on stage than what is typically seen, it's wonderful to see a new, original and daring musical drama like Allegiance come to town in a high-profile production with a predominantly Asian cast playing out a history lesson about institutionalized racism in America.
The score by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione (book) and Kuo (music) struck me on first hearing as more imitation than original. Case in point, Kei's late Act I "Higher," which gives Salonga a showcase for her still-rich pipes but is so generic it lacks any emotional punch. Validation is hardly the worst crime a show can commit, and I think that's one reason the audience was cheering at the very moving end of the show. It's a triumph of a rare sort, shedding light in a dark corner of our history with uncommon generosity of spirit.
The show isn't bombastic or preachy, though some may find the well-structured book -- written by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione -- too earnest. Kuo's serviceable score is loaded with anthems, simple melodic lines and some obvious rhymes, with a few lighthearted '40s boogie-woogy numbers to signify Americana. Although we hear enticing Japanese flute and percussion between scenes, this more "Le Miz"-lite pop opera than a fusion of musical cultures.
Takei bookends the show playing a bitter, adult Sammy, but for the rest, his winking personality is used perfectly as Ojii-chan, Sammy and Kei's loving grandfather - quick with a joke, and providing much-needed islands of levity amidst a sea of sadness. In fact, when it's not threatening to rip your heartstrings out all together, Allegiance is quite entertaining, with 1940s dance numbers, nods to the Andrews Sisters, and bits of jazz influence. Even if it's not 100 percent original all the time (hey, not everything can be Hamilton), Allegiance is an important show with a phenomenal cast, and it deserves to be seen. B+
"Allegiance," a new musical about the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II, could be said to suffer from a problem of divided loyalties, and I'm not referring to its characters. The show wants to illuminate a dark passage in American history with complexity and honesty, but the first requirement of any Broadway musical is to entertain. While well-intentioned and polished, "Allegiance" struggles to balance both ambitions, and doesn't always find an equilibrium.
The strength of "Allegiance" is in the story. Not the musical's book, which is no more than serviceable, but the disturbing real-life events behind it. The book by Marc Acito, Lorenzo Thione and Jay Kuo (who also contributed the bland score), does what musicals tend to do when dramatizing major historical events - attempt to "humanize" complex issues by refracting them through the experiences of a small representative group.
George Takei, the original Sulu on Star Trek, was one of those interned. The experiences of his family have now inspired Allegiance, an unexceptional though often affecting new Broadway musical. Allegiance should be better served by its book, score and lyrics, most of which tend toward the generic. Stafford Arima's direction does too. Composer and lyricist Jay Kuo and book writers Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione are striving so hard for stirring nobility that individuality or particular characterization falls by the wayside. The ballads are all sufficiently ballad-y, but none of the melodies linger once the curtain has fallen and the lyrics pile on platitude and cliché.
A storied "Star Trek" helmsman can do only so much to make his first Broadway enterprise soar. George Takei, known as Mr. Sulu from the classic sci-fi series, does bring starry charisma and a galaxy of goodwill to "Allegiance," but the show is stuck on impulse power. Sam and Kei's grandfather (an endearing Takei) folds the questionnaire into a paper lotus that gets pinned behind Kei's ear. "You're a woman who wears a political statement in her hair," says Frankie. "Allegiance" also wants to make a significant statement. But it's too tangled to say very much.
But although it revolves around the Kimura family, ripped apart by life in the camps, "Allegiance" gets trapped in the very freneticism of its own storytelling. Relationships are built and fall apart without anyone seeming to take the time to think through the implications of anything. Even the small number of emotionally potent ballads in Kuo's florid, traditional and mostly romantic score are taken at a tempo where you wonder how the singer has any time to emote anything. So go the scenes, designed with retro fluidity, by Donyale Werle. Nobody seems to take the time to think, or to feel.
nternment camps, racial discrimination and an atomic bomb blast are challenging topics to incorporate into a satisfying night of theater. The heavy-handed, cliche-driven "Allegiance" which opened Sunday at the Longacre Theatre tries to take on all three - but does so unsuccessfully in a bombastic and generic Broadway musical. It has an ambitious agenda - touching on pride, citizenship, degradation, interracial romance, bravery and honor - and it's too much. While it's great that an Asian cast is telling a chapter in its own history, it's through an old-fashioned, stereotypical style that's out of touch with where Broadway is going.
It's so depressing when a new musical that explores an important historical event turns out to have so many problems.78-year-old George Takei, who appears in a supporting role, was himself interned when he was a young boy and spearheaded the musical's development.