New Musical Allegiance, With Lea Salonga and George Takei, Opens on Broadway …

9 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Allegiance’ review: George Takei lends luster to new Broadway musical.

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. The production was inspired by the childhood of “Star Trek” icon George Takei, who had family members among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans incarcerated during World War II.

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. Inspired by Takei’s personal experience, the team explores Japanese American internment camps through the eyes of one fictional family — the Kimuras. The show’s title refers to a federal government questionnaire demanding “unqualified allegiance” to the U.S. “They lock us up, then ask for loyalty,” says the Kimura patriarch (Christopheren Nomura). It’s all very jarring and not at all organic. “Allegiance” features music and lyrics by Jay Kuo — which blends Big Band sounds with Japanese folk melodies and brassy Broadway numbers — and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, which mixes Japanese words with elders speaking in broken English. But it’s not always easy to watch: Each song in the musical seems to swell into a full-throated anthem, growing more swollen with every note, shooting up to the ceiling and then curling back onto themselves.

Kuo’s score careens from grand pop opera anthems to earnest but trivial self-help filler songs with titles like “Resist,” “Higher” and “Our Time Now.” One interesting song that stands out, “Gaman,” refers to Japanese expression for holding one’s head high. The thick lyrics also spoon-feed the story as if we couldn’t already see what was happening. (“I thought I’d face the enemy/But I fell in love instead,” sings a nurse who already has told us why she enlisted and we have seen fall in love.) Here’s a typical overwrought line: “My blood to offer/So others might live.” One of the few bright spots is Salonga singing “Higher,” a rare moment when this musical’s onstage talent is beautifully served by a tender song.

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. Then a trio of dancing white soldiers arrive, singing a chirpy, swing-inspired ditty. “We thought you were the enemy/ You proved us wrong/Now just get back home where you belong/The whole messy business: whoops,” they sing blithely to the detainees.

It’s a cynical, darkly humorous and sarcastic song, the kind that John Kander and Fred Ebb created for their masterpieces of unease, like “Cabaret,” “The Scottsboro Boys” and “Chicago.” If anyone should have done a story about detainees and atomic bombs, it’s them. With such an important subject on the line, and blessed with a talented, hard-working cast, the creators of “Allegiance” missed a ground-breaking opportunity.

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