In September 2008, composer/lyricist Jay Kuo (Insignificant Others, Worlds Apart) and his writing and producing partner Lorenzo Thione were at a performance of Forbidden Broadway in New York when they realized, star-struck, that George Takei (of “Star Trek” fame) and his husband Brad were sitting behind them. The four exchanged pleasantries.
Serendipitously, the next night, the four were again seated near each other at the musical In the Heights. During the first act, Takei was visibly touched by the song “Inutil” (“Useless”) and when intermission came, Kuo asked him why. The song (about a father’s inability to help his daughter), Takei explained, reminded him of his own father. After Pearl Harbor, five-year-old Takei and his family were forced out of their East Los Angeles home and interned at an Arkansas relocation camp. In Takei’s words, “Two soldiers with bayonets stomped onto our front porch. My mother came downstairs with tears in her eyes, holding my newborn sister. That image will forever be seared into my memory.”
“His story gave me chills,” muses Kuo, “and I said, ‘This might sound crazy, but I’d like to write a musical about your experience.'”
A few weeks later, Kuo and Thione e-mailed Takei a song. “I found myself weeping at the computer,” recalls Takei, who immediately signed onto the project. Four years after their chance encounter, Allegiance is premiering at San Diego’s Old Globe (Sept. 7-Oct. 21), directed by Stafford Arima, with music and lyrics by Kuo and a book by Kuo, Thione and Marc Acito. A transfer to Broadway is planned later this season.
Allegiance chronicles the World War II experiences of the Kimura family at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming. Telly Leung (Godspell, Rent) and Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) play siblings Sammy and Kei, who represent the rift within the Japanese-American community. While Sammy is desperately committed to proving his loyalty and patriotism, Kei supports the draft resisters, who refuse to serve a country that put them in concentration camps. Takei plays Sam as an older man looking back on his family’s history.
“It’s vitally important for Americans to know about those moments where we fail our national ideals,” Takei asserts, adding, “We have enough chapters about the glory of our democracy, but we learn more from the chapters where we made mistakes.”
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