Allegiance Takes George Takei From Star Trek to Broadway

George Takei
George Takei

For a quarter century, George Takei helped shape American popular culture through his role as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek franchise.

Now, his latest work, the powerful, heart-wrenching, miraculous Broadway musical Allegiance, addresses a dark period in American history. And the curtain rises on Allegiance thanks in large part to Takei’s own vision and perseverance.

Allegiance tells the 1940’s era story of a family that was rounded up (along with more than 120,00 others) and imprisoned in internment camps—all because of their Japanese heritage. Most of these people were American citizens; many of their families had lived in the United States for generations … but, in Takei’s words, they “happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Japanese-Americans boarding a bus for the Manzanar internment camp.
Japanese-Americans boarding a bus for Manzanar internment camp.

Over the course of World War II, these people were forced to live under the harshest of conditions, in camps based in such places as the swamps of Arkansas to the most desolate areas of Utah and Wyoming. They were imprisoned without charge and without trial, having had their homes, businesses and property taken from them.

Eventually, some Japanese-American men were permitted to serve in the military—after all they had been through, they were still eager to prove their patriotism and hopefully secure the release of their families. Their unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was sent on the war’s most dangerous missions and incurred the American army’s highest rate of casualties. Yet, to this day, for its size and length of service, the 442 remains the most decorated unit in the history of America warfare.

442nd Regimental Combat Team
442nd Regimental Combat Team

Still, others in the internment camps resisted the military draft, and a requirement to swear allegiance to the U.S. and forswear loyalty to the Emperor of Japan (since they were already American citizens and had no loyalty to the Emperor, many found the requirement grossly offensive). These resistors found themselves imprisoned, often in federal penitentiaries.

Upon their release, the internees—homeless and penniless—were each given $25 and a bus ticket to the destination of their choice.

It’s this story that plays out eight times a week on the stage of Broadway’s Longacre Theatre. The tale is based on events from Takei’s childhood, when he and his family were relocated to an internment camp, and is told from the point of view of one Japanese-American family that finds itself torn apart by this imprisonment during World War II. Takei—a driving force behind the creation and production of Allegiance—appears in two roles, alongside Tony-Award winner and Disney star Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Aladdin) and Broadway and TV star Telly Leung (Rent, Glee).

The path Allegiance took to reach Broadway is a fascinating tale in its own right. Composer Jay Kuo and playwright Lorenzo Thione heard Takei crying at a performance of In the Heights. This led to Takei talking about his childhood and what his family endured. Kuo and Thione were captivated by the stories and felt they could make the basis of a great play. In 2009, the play had its first reading, featuring Takei and Salonga, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The play was workshopped at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego in 2011, and by 2012, it opened there. After a long and nerve-wracking wait for a spot on Broadway, previews of Allegiance began at the Longacre in October. The play is expected to officially open there on November 8.

Allegiance is a story of hardship and resilience, of desperation and hope, and yes, of patriotism. It’s a story of family and betrayal, and ultimately, a story of love and redemption. With music and lyrics by Kuo and book by Marc Acito, Kuo, and Thione, Allegiance never forgets that it’s a Broadway musical (it comes complete with big, splashy productions numbers that are set in a U.S. internment camp). But the show is also a unique stage experience—and a work of a lifetime for Takei, who steps out from behind the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise and launches himself as a major artist into the brilliant lights of the Great White Way. May this production live long and prosper.

George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung
George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung

 

 

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