Allegiance is a musical about the US Government's concentration camp program during WWII, where Japanese citizens and residents were forced out of their homes and lands, then taken 1,000 miles away to live one family to a room in camps guarded by Army troops.
The show opens with an elderly Sam Kimura (George Takei) in a US Army uniform with lots of service ribbons, getting ready for a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony. There is a knock on his door, and a woman says Sam's older sister has died, and as executor for the estate she hands him a box of things which belong to him. He has not seen his sister in 60 years.
Inside the box is a baseball, which he takes out. The half of the stage Sam is not on becomes an internment camp, his younger self, Sammy (Telly Leung), takes the baseball and starts trying to organize a game.
Through excellent simple set changes and some amazing projection work, the play weaves back and forth between camp and pre-camp Sammy and his big sister Kei (Lea Salonga), father Tatsuo (Paul Nakauchi) and grandfather Oji-san (Takei). It eventually settles on the camp, with scene shifts between parts of the camp, the JACL in Washington DC and eventually follows Sammy to war in Europe, and finally back to San Francisco.
The tech is astounding. Lighting, projections on moving flats, sound effects, all very well done and added a lot of emotional impact to the show. The only sore spot in tech for me was the orchestra mix was far too loud.
The ensemble is vocally very powerful, though not as Japanese as I expected. Out of the 12 members listed in the program, only one has a Japanese name. Among the leads, only Takei and Nakauchi are of Japanese descent. Salonga is a Filipina, Leung and the man playing Kei's boyfriend Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee) are Chinese-American, bad JACL rep Mike Masaoka is played by Filipino Paolo Montalban (no relation to Ricardo).
The story moves along quickly, and is very gripping. All the leading characters are very strong, except for token white girl ingenue Hannah Campbell (17-year-old Allie Trimm). In most other casts she would have been fine, but not among all these powerhouses. Having her mike fail at the start of a love duet with Sammy did not help.
Jay Kuo wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thone. The script starts out as a fine balance between serious and humorous, but by the end of the show the humor has gone away. There are 25 "songs" listed in the program, but I can't remember the tunes of any of them. Several are not songs, but operatic dialog.
The show ends with a plot revelation which I have problems with. No spoilers - so let's just say that it reveals the true nature of one of the characters about 50 years after Sam would have known IRL. And had he known, he would have had a very different relationship with his sister. I personally would have preferred that plot choice.
But despite all the minuses, I was one of the first on my feet for the full house standing ovation. Salonga was actually embarrassed by the amount of approbation she was given, but it was well-deserved.
There are two more performances of Allegiance at the Old Globe Theater, Balboa Park, San Diego: 10/28 at 2 and 8 pm.
The staff wants to take this to Broadway next, but I don't think it's a Broadway hit show. The story is too West Coast, the music and lyrics are not catchy enough, and it would only last as long as Takei and Salonga were on board. I don't think either of them would stay with the show for very long. I'd love to see it instead travel up the coast and play LA, Bay Area, Portland and Seattle.
In May 2010 I won a contest on Facebook to see an investor's preview of this show. I met George Takei and Jay Kuo, who were both very gracious and friendly, and I heard Allie Trimm, then 14, perform a couple of numbers. They also showed a video which included Lea Salonga and there was a song Takei sang in a beautiful bass voice.
They changed the plot significantly since the preview. At that time, Trimm played the daughter of the camp warden, and there was a very strong warden role, with all the expected drama between a love-struck teenaged daughter and her Army officer dad. In the current script, Hannah Campbell is a Quaker volunteer working in the camp's infirmary, her parents out of the picture. They also took George's song away.