Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allegiance (Broadway Show) … and a look at intolerance then and now

"Allegiance" is the Broadway show based on a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, that takes us inside the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II. My awareness of the play, and I admit, my primary reason for initially buying a ticket, was due to GeorgeTakei, who I follow for his humorous posts on Facebook, and who plays the older Sam Kimura and Ojii-chan. When I became aware that Lea Salonga was starring in the role of Kei Kimura, my interest as a Broadway fan peaked. I had not seen "Miss Saigon," for which Ms. Salonga won a Tony Award, so this was an opportunity to see one of Broadway's finest.

I left the theater pleasantly surprised. While my expectations were that Salonga would be brilliant, I was unsure what to expect from the show itself, and even Mr. Takei. Lea Salonga, who is one of the shining lights of Broadway, exhibits why in this performance. Her vocals are stunning; her portrayal of Kei both heartfelt and true. She is worth the price of any Broadway ticket all on her own merit.

"Allegiance" offers so much more than just Ms. Salonga. George Takei is funny, warm and quite strong in both his roles. He more than holds his own with the remaining cast. Young Sammy Kimura is played well by Telly Leung, who exhibited good vocal and acting performances. A standout for me was Katie Rose Clarke, in the role of Hannah Campbell (previously in the role of Glinda in "Wicked"), whose voice was forceful and who also contributed a fine stage presence.

"Allegiance" is a message of idealism, keeping eyes open enough to realize not everything is black and white, the dangers of patriotism for America without being willing to see its warts and imperfections, and of love. That love comes in many forms, be it for country, culture, family, or individual. "Allegiance" tells us there can be redemption, despite the casualties of war and intolerance.

The show is emotional on so many levels, some described more fully below. If you are not shedding a tear or two by its conclusion, check yourself for a pulse.

"Allegiance" itself was quite entertaining. The choreography and staging was well done, some musical numbers, especially when Salonga led the way, left a lasting impression, and humor was sprinkled throughout. On the other hand, some lyrics might have been a bit cliched and a few performances were stilted.

But the most important aspects of "Allegiance" revolve around the timely messages it dispenses. I write this review one day after the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which as of this writing number 129 dead and several hundred wounded. It also comes in an environment of political campaigning and social unrest, especially in the U.S., but also in Europe in intermittent intervals, where rightwing rhetoric feeds fear, intolerance and extremism against immigrants from Mexico (in the case of the U.S.) and from the Middle East and Northern Africa (mostly in Europe, but also, again, in the U.S.).

The cautionary tale of the Japanese-American internment roughly 70 years ago echoes throughout as a warning against reacting to tragedy, terror and radical ideology with overreaction. I am no pacifist, and support reasonable security measures and even military action when appropriate and well-thought out. But the response to an extreme should never be with a returned extreme. Justifiable anger, grief and, yes, forceful responses to terrorism in no way legitimize bigotry, blanket presumptions of guilt based upon religion, race, creed, or color, intolerance, and non-acceptance of multiculturalism.

Where once we saw Japanese-Americans as only Japanese, and therefore the enemy, today, we see Muslims and Arabs in much the same vein. Strength is understandable; allowing fear and intolerance to rule the day is only self-defeating.

I highly recommend seeing "Allegiance." If you are a hardcore Broadway affecionado, you will not be disappointed. If you're a George Takei fan, enjoy! As a student of history or an interested party as to exploring race relations and intolerance, "Allegiance" will most assuredly provide food for thought.

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