Broadway musical “Allegiance,” starring stage and screen star George Takei, landed in Los Angeles’ Aratani Theatre at the end of February and will be running until April 1.
Presented by the East West Players (EWP) and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), “Allegiance” tells the story of the Kimura family members — son Sammy (Ethan Le Phong/Takei as present day), daughter Kei (Elena Wang), father Tatsuo (Scott Watanabe), and grandfather Ojii-chan (Takei) — who are uprooted from their farm in Salinas, California and are incarcerated alongside other Japanese Americans following the events of Pearl Harbor.
The over two-hour play sheds light on a dark period of American history, yet the musical numbers show resilience and hope.
The plot is inspired by Takei’s real-life experience during World War II, as he spent ages 5 to 9 in the Rohwer Incarceration Camp in Arkansas and later Tule Lake in Northern California.
The Broadway production of “Allegiance” (music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione) first opened on November 8, 2015 at the Longacre Theater in New York City. Lea Salonga originated the role of Kei Kimura.
This year, the staging coincides with the 76th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the incarceration of Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor.
“At a time when civil liberties are under threat and our most vulnerable communities are being targeted, ‘Allegiance’ shares an essential American story, one that seeks to speak about the injustice survived by 120,000 innocent Americans persecuted and incarcerated because of their cultural and ethnic heritage,” EWP producing artistic director Snehal Desai and JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito wrote in the February issue of Performances Magazine.
“Allegiance” held its opening night in Los Angeles on Wednesday, February 28; previews were held the week before and reportedly received standing ovations for each performance.
The cast includes Greg Watanabe as Mike Masaoka, Janelle Dote as Executor, Natalie Holt MacDonald as Hannah Campbell, with ensemble members Jordan Goodsell, Sharline Liu, Miyuki Miyagi, Glenn Shiroma, Chad Takeda, and Grace Yoo.
Also in the production are Filipino Americans Eymard Cabling (Frankie Suzuki, Kei’s love interest), Cesar Cipriano (ensemble/Ben Masaoka/fight choreographer), Marc Macalintal as music director, and Alison De La Cruz as executive producer of the LA staging.
Cabling’s credits include “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Jane of the Jungle,” while Cipriano has been in previous EWP productions such as “Equus,” “Pippin,” “Be Like Water,” and “La Cage aux Folles.” He has also been on the national tours of “Miss Saigon” and “The King and I,” and appearances on TV shows “Being Mary Jane,” “2 Broke Girls,” and “New Girl.”
Macalintal is a LA-based musician who has been involved in theatre as a music director (“LA Cage aux Folles,” “The Who’s Tommy,” “The Last Five Years”), a composer (“Krunk Fu Battle Battle”), and as an actor (“Damn Yankees,” “Master Class,” “The King and I”). He was recently nominated for an Ovation Award for his work in EWP’s “Next to Normal.”
De La Cruz, who is the director of performing arts and community engagement at JACCC, said bringing “Allegiance” to LA was a two-year conversation that started between the organization and book writer/producer Lorenzo Thione.
Upon getting the licensing of the production, JACCC partnered with EWP with special arrangement with Sing Out, Louise! Productions and ATA.
“Since then, I have been coordinating with both the East West Players team and JACCC staff, supporting our boards, and really trying to overall help us bring together this landmark production for both organizations and make sure that in all the work we’re doing in Little Tokyo, it’ll represent not only Japanese and Japanese Americans but the larger Asian American community,” De La Cruz told the Asian Journal on opening night.
Citing the number of Filipino and Fil-Am talent, from Martin Nievera to Kayamanan Ng Lahi, that has performed on the Aratani stage, she added “It is a house that’s really built by the Asian American community and artists. Knowing that we had the space to really create a project of this kind, it’s been a wild ride but so rewarding and I’m so proud of all of the folks on this show. There are 130 people working on this production. I love watching this whole company tell the story in a way that only Los Angeles can.”
Even though the story is centered around the Japanese American experience, De La Cruz said Filipino Americans will be able to relate to the tight-knit family as well as the Filipino immigration history in California.
“For Filipino Americans, I think we can relate to the family. We know from the Filipino-American National Historical Society and other scholars that there have been times in California where signs were up in San Jose saying, “No Filipinos or dogs allowed,” so the Filipino immigrant history in California is connected to this story,” she said. “For us, it’s also an opportunity to really think about and engage in this moment of history. As Filipinos, we have a different relationship with the Japanese community and for me, it has been really powerful to think about and offer this as an opportunity. As Americans, as immigrants or kids of immigrants, how do we want to treat each other?”
De La Cruz aims to invite more stories about the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and have them told on stage.
“People could really see, we have so much more talent than we’re getting roles for and that’s really what I want: to accelerate, perpetuate, push out there that we have so much more to do and we have so much more to say and we can do that. We don’t have to wait anymore. That for me is the big moment of today is, if we waited, we wouldn’t be here tonight. If I waited to see what would happen, I don’t know if ‘Allegiance’ would’ve come to me so it is about identifying what we want, being clear and naming it and claiming our place in the greater diversity of Los Angeles, diversity of American theatre. And then I think as Filipinos, for us to continue to be partners and allies but claim our place in the larger Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”
“Allegiance” will run at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center’s Aratani Theater (244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, CA) until April 1, 2018. Performances will be held Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinee showings at 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. There will be no performance on Sunday, March 18. For tickets and information, please visit AllegianceMusical.com.