Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Allegiance is set during World War II, in a period of forced relocation and incarceration of around 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour. 62% of the internees were US citizens. The internment was sadly the result of racism and xenophobia, rather than any military danger from the population. With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo, the musical was inspired by the personal childhood experiences of George Takei.
And though my face resembles, our enemies in war,
I am still American, nothing less and nothing more
The productionopened on Broadway to mixed reviews and was heavily criticised for its execution, however, it still managed to scoop a Noel Craig Award for Outstanding New Musical, Outstanding Featured Performance (Michael K Lee) and Outstanding Orchestrations, as well as receiving four further nominations.
The narrative follows the true story of the Kimura family, who are forced to sell their beautiful Californian farm for a meagre sum, and are incarcerated at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The internment tears the family apart, changing each profoundly and leaving young Sam, estranged from his family for 6 decades.
On the face of it, Allegiance is everything you could want in a musical. It’s incredibly passionate and has a huge emotional impact, all the more for knowing the origins of the story. The music soars, and there is an abundance of soliloquies and ballads; true anthems in musical theatre. However, given the complexity of the subject matter, the lyrics feel almost ordinary and banal, when they deserve to be extraordinary.
Tony Award Winner Lea Salonga as Kei shines throughout. Stirring and emotive, she retains a timeless quality to near flawless vocals. Higher draws parallels with Kei’s childhood, reflective and largely happily reminiscent, she yearns to retrieve her youthful determination. This theme of determination and perseverance is prevalent throughout; company number Our Time Now, memorable on first listening, is the rousing closure of the first act that you would expect from a Broadway musical. Gamen, steeped in meaning and originating from the German word translating as ‘endurance with dignity’, is sung beautifully by Salonga and baritone Christópheren Nomura. Similarly, Ishi Kara Ishi, a heart-warming duet between Salonga and Takei, carries the message that mountains can be moved with persistence, stone by stone.
The real strength of this musical lies in the events behind the music. Allegiance is complex, honest and forgiving, yet sometimes oversimplified. It tells of a brutal, shameful history that should never be forgotten, especially as WWII moves out of living memory. With themes of family, love and loyalty, there are lessons to be learnt and is particularly relevant and poignant in today’s society.
Allegiance is available from Amazon &iTunes