How George Takei, Lea Salonga Bring Joy to WWII Internment Camp Musical 'Allegiance'
"Resilience isn't just teeth-gritting, bullet-biting strength; it's also the strength to be able to find joy and love under harsh circumstances," said Takei of the Broadway show.
When George Takei began brainstorming Allegiance, a musical inspired by his childhood experiences in a WWII internment camp for Japanese-Americans, even Howard Stern was concerned.
"When he first told me, I was like, 'This is never gonna work. Who wants to see a play about such a depressing thing?'" Stern told reporters of his longtime radio show counterpart Takei.
Nevertheless, the new Broadway production opened Sunday night at the Longacre Theatre, bringing an oft-hushed historical moment to the stage. "I knew very, very little [about it beforehand], and it shocked me when George talked about what his family's been through — they were led there at gunpoint to a horse stall in Santa Anita!" Lea Salonga told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm thinking, 'That's absolutely impossible; there's no effing way this could've happened. But it did. The United States incarcerated its own citizens."
Still, the Tony winner felt the Stafford Arima-directed show was an apt vehicle for her return to Broadway after six years: "If we don't know our history, this could very well happen again. It's terrifyingly relevant."
The musical — which joins Broadway's diverse season after a 2012 run at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, and features music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book he wrote with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione — also has its moments of levity, which was a priority for Takei to showcase.
"Resilience isn't just teeth-gritting, bullet-biting strength; it's also the strength to be able to find joy and love under harsh circumstances. We used that to build more joyful musical numbers," he explained of the show's upbeat 1940s-style songs, which lighten the mood amid Salonga's heartfelt ballads. "That's what we had in camp. Our barrack was right across from the mess hall, and once a month, the authorities allowed us teens to clear the tables after dinner and dance."
Among attendees at the show's opening night were Adam Shankman, Kate McKinnon, Taye Diggs, Ben Platt, Max von Essen, Leanne Cope, Sarah Stiles, How to Get Away With Murder's Conrad Ricamora (who was a swing in the San Diego run and is now appearing on Broadway in The King and I) and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Hamilton creator and star has known Allegiance lead Telly Leung since his teen years, as the two students from rival New York City high schools were both involved in productions of West Side Story.
"I just had my arms crossed, mean-mugging him, [admitting], 'Tony is pretty good,'" Miranda, who directed his school's version, told THR of Leung in that show. They made peace after an off-Broadway performance of In the Heights, said Leung: "We've been buds ever since."