The Best Reparation Is Not Doing It Again | Allegiance Musical Broadcast

Allegiance Musical BroadcastAs you may recall, I’ve been trying to predict shows that will be going on tour. One show I’ve really been interested in is Allegiance (FB), the Broadway musical that George Takei (FB) has been involved with about the Japanese Internment during WWII. The trade papers said a tour would materialize; but the show’s website doesn’t indicate one. I’ve always expected that a tour, if it materialized, would show up at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) — or that the Ahmanson, recognizing the Japanese community in Los Angeles, might mount a local production. But the Ahmanson hasn’t announced their season yet, and the good folks behind the Broadway show felt the message was important enough to rebroadcast the musical. You see, these producers did something very intelligent. They recorded the musical about a month after it opened, and arranged to have it broadcast around the country, one time, a number of months after it closed. Through my various Broadway RSS and other feeds, I learned that they were arranging a rebroadcast this weekend — and so to hedge my bets in case it didn’t materialize on the stage, I got tickets.

What I didn’t realize, of course, was the significance of the day of the rebroadcast. Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the order that sent Japanese Americans to the internment camps. It is also in a time where there is an intense fear that a segment of our current population is dangerous just because of their religion, even when that segment are longtime American citizens. That makes the message of this show even more timely. Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President who signed the order, said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Then he gave into the fear, put US citizens into internment camps, tore away their livelihoods and homes, and regarded them as suspicious just because of their looks or their origins. It was wrong. It was unconstitutional. It was unthinkable. It must never never never happen again. And yet…. we have a large segment of our population living in fear of people because of their looks, their religion or their origin.

I’m an Engineer, but I have a confession to make. A good, compelling story does make my eyes water. Many deep Broadway shows do that — I love theatre because of its ability to tell a story and draw out the emotion. By the end of Allegiance, my jaw was quivering and I was find it hard to hold it together. That is a measure of how powerful this story is; how important it is to tell it. I can’t say to go see the show at your local theatre — alas Allegiance closed after a very short run on Broadway for whatever reason (well, the critics hated it, but what do they know). I can say to friend Allegiance‘s Facebook page so that you can find out if they ever broadcast it again. I can say you must encourage local theatres to do it, but I’m not sure it is licensed yet. We can clamor for a small tour, or push the Ahmanson or East/West to mount it. But I personally feel that this is something that must be seen, and that the critics often have problems with dark, different, and difficult material, only to appreciate it later. Remember: they hate Carrie when it first came out; now it is a great parable about bullying.

I left Allegiance appreciating the power of theatre. That is a good thing.

I guess I should tell you the story of Allegiance, which has a book by Marc Acito (FB),  Jay Kuo (FB), and Lorenzo Thione (FB), and music and lyrics by Jay Kuo (FB). According to Wikipedia, the genesis of the show was a chance meeting in the fall of 2008 of George Takei and his husband, Brad, who were seated next to Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. They met again at another show, had some conversations, and this led to the notion of a musical based roughly on George’s experiences as a child in the internment camps.  I’ll also note you can find a more detailed version on the show webpage or wikipedia. In short, the show tells the story of the Kimura family from Salinas: the grandfather (Ojii-chan), the father (Tatsuo Kimura), and the two children: Sam and Kei. It starts with Sam, who is a WWII veteran, learning that his sister Kei has died. This opens us into the story and how the rift between them was created. We see the family running a farm and having an American life, and then the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In short order, based on an agreement between the government and the Japanese American Citizens League, led by Mike Masaoka, internment orders go out, and Japanese on the Pacific coast are ordered to camps. The Kimura family has to sell all but what they can carry, and they are taken by force to a camp, Heart Mountain, in the wilds of Wyoming. We learn of life in the camp through a series of scenes, and get to meet two characters in particular: Lt. Hannah Campbell, a nurse at the camp, and Frankie Suzuki, another internee at the camp. Campbell is drawn to Sammy; Frankie to Kei. As time passes, the JACL convinces the government to let Japanese Americans serve in the armed force, in a segregated unit, for suicide missions. A questionnaire goes out that includes loyalty questions so that only loyal Japanese Americans can serve. Tatsuo refuses to answer yes to those questions, and gets hauled away to Tule Mountain. Sammy volunteers to serve (against his father’s wishes), and goes on to be one of the few survivors from that batallion. Frankie, on the other hand, resists; when drafted, he organizes resistance in the camp and is arrested. The creates the wedge that drives the story to its conclusion. I’ll let you read the synopsis for more, but you get the drift.

Given we’re in the era of identifying “fake news”, I’ll note that Wikipedia relates that the show does conflate experiences across different camps for dramatic effect, and adds a bit more military oversight than existed at Heart Mountain.

At this point in a writeup, I’d normally move into a discussion of the direction and performance. But this was a broadcast of a Broadway show, and I’d like to digress to explore that for a graph or two. Going in, I was torn. Recording a Broadway show can have some distinct advantages: it can preserve a performance for posterity; it can also make a show available in many places where this level of theater does not occur — and thus can spread the word about the power of theatre. On the other hand, it could supplant the live production, result in the undercompensation of the actors performing in the recording, and deny work to actors who might work in the local versions of the show. Coming out, I had a different view: the recording allowed on to see the performances up close and personal, in a way that wouldn’t be possible even from the orchestra seats. But it also disconnected the audience from the “big picture”; you never got the scope of the breadth of the stage or the grandeur of the choreography and movement.  The audience feedback was also very different, due to the awareness that there were no actors on stage. Unlike a show, where there is constant applause and feedback, this audience was silent, even at the end. Audience reaction is vital not only for the show but for other audience members, and I felt the different. I also felt the difference with the lack of an intermission and a playbill. In the end, I think seeing the broadcast only made me want to see it live even more.

Next: The Theatre. We saw this at the AMC Promenade theatre in Woodland Hills, which is one of the few survivors in a dying mall. The original auditorium had significant projection problems (double images) that they couldn’t correct before the show. They moved us to a different auditorium (same size, but different arrangement), which created some seating confusion but fixed most projection problems. There was still the problem of bleed-over bass from the auditorium next to us, and there was a sound synchronization problem during much of the first act. Some of this was beyond the theatre’s control, and despite the problems, they managed it well (plus they gave us passes as compensation for the problems). I think we’ll try them again. I’ll note that our show was sold out (130-some-odd seats).

Now, on to the performances, under the direction of Stafford Arima (FB). As you can tell, I was moved and astounded by all the lead performers — the projection allowed us to see things up close that we might never see from the audience. As it is hard to single them out (especially without a Playbill — if you want the Broadway experience, Fathom Events (FB) you should provide that!), let me just start by listing the leads:  George Takei (FB) [Sam Kimura (older), Ojii-chan]; Telly Leung (FB) [Sammy Kimura]; Lea Salonga (FB) [Kei Kimura]; Katie Rose Clarke  [Hannah Campbell]; Michael K. Lee  (FB) [Frankie Suzuki]; Christòpheren Nomura (FB) [Tatsuo Kimura]; and Greg Watanabe (FB) [Mike Masaoka]. With respect to their performances, I was particularly taken with the facial expressions of both Clarke and Salonga, who were just spectacular. I’d only seen Takei perform where everyone else has seen him before, and his performance here just blew me away. He was wasted at the navagation console :-). I’m always impressed by Salonga’s voice, but both Leung and Lee did great jobs as well. All and all, spectacular performances.

In small roles and ensemble parts were: Aaron J. Albano (FB) [Tom Maruyama, Ensemble]; Marcus Choi (FB) [Johnny Goto, Ensemble]; Janelle Toyomi Dote (FB) [Mrs. Maruyama, Executor, Ensemble]; Dan Horn (FB) [Recruiting Officer, Private Evans, Big Band Singer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Darren Lee (FB) [Dr. Tanaka, Ben Masaoka, Ensemble]; Kevin Munhall [Federal Agent, Private Knight, Tule Lake Guard, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Rumi Oyama (FB) [Mrs. Tanaka; Ensemble]; Shea Renne [Betsy Tanaka, Ensemble]; Momoko Sugai (FB) [Peggy Maruyama, Ensemble]; Autumn Ogawa [Ensemble]; Elena Wang (FB) [Nan Goto, Ensemble]; Scott Watanabe (FB) [Mr. Maruyama, Ensemble]; Cary Tedder [Ensemble]; and Scott Wise (FB) [Grocer, Director Dillon, Photographer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble].  With the way this was filmed, it was harder to single out particular ensemble members and smaller characters, but I enjoyed the characters overall. Particularly notable was the actress playing the older Japanese woman — I’m guessing it was Rumi Oyama, but it could have been Janelle Dote.

I am not listing the standbys, understudies, and swings as I normally do, because the show has closed and we had the cast on the film. You can find the full list here, together with the list of musicians.

The choreography was by Andrew Palermo (FB), who did an excellent job. I particularly enjoyed not only the large dance numbers but the Japanese movement as well. The movement during the Hiroshima scene was particularly chilling. The Playbill page does not give credit for the musical direction or the conducting. Orchestrations were by Lynne Shankel. Check the Playbill page for information on the dance captains, assistant dance captains, and all the associate and assistant choreographers and directors.

One disadvantage of the theatrical projection is that one cannot get the full impact of the scenic design and other production aspects. Yet another reason to go see it live. In general, the scenic design and projections worked well to establish a sense of place; given the broadcast aspects, it was hard to get a sense of sound and lights. Costumes, makeup, and hair was excellent. Here are the production credits: Donyale Werle [Scenic Design]; Alejo Vietti (FB) [Costume Design]; Howell Binkley (FB) [Lighting Design]; Darrel Maloney [Projection Design]; Kai Harada [Sound Designer]; Charles G. LaPointe [Wig and Hair Design]; Joe Dulude II [Make-up Design];  Peter Wolf  [Production Stage Manager]; and Brian Bogin [Stage Manager].

One last closing note: The production was also notable for the attention to casting asians in asian roles. I’ve commented on this before with shows like Waterfall and The King and I. I still bemoan the fact that there were sufficient Japanese actors to be able to cast closer to role-appropriate (a common problem), and I also bemoan the fact that many asian actors can only find roles in things like this, or onsie-twosie in shows. We need to remember that unless the story requires a particular ethnicity, cast color and race blind.

For the theatrical credits, I must turn to IMDB, so look here for all the cinematography credits and such.

We can only hope that Fathom Events (FB) broadcasts this again.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. Now we just need to see what the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) will do.