The piece penned by Lorenzo Thione, Marc Acito, and Jay Kuo opens in 2001 with Sam Kimura (George Takei) in his military uniform on Pearl Harbor Day. He is visited by a woman who announces that his sister Kei (Lea Salonga) has passed away. He hasn't seen her in over fifty years, but he is immediately visited by her spirit, reminding him that their family has unfinished business. We are then transported back to 1941 when a young Sam (Telly Leung) returns home from college to the family artichoke farm in Salinas, CA. The family's future is wrapped up in Sam, but then Pearl Harbor happens and everything changes. The events that ensue recount one of the darkest parts of America's history. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans were transported to labor camps, not unlike what was happening in Nazi Germany simultaneously. Japanese Americans, including the Kimura family, struggle with their own allegiances. Sam wants to prove just how American he is and eventually joins the Army, while their father refuses to pledge allegiance to a country that essentially disowns his family and finds himself in prison. After the war, Sam returns to a hero's welcome, but finds his dear Hannah (Katie Rose Clarke) gone and the entire Kimura family changed forever.
What struck me so much about this piece was not the music, normally my favorite entry point into the musical, but the storytelling. I certainly learned about Japanese American internment in school, but I never realized how eerily similar it was to Nazi Germany. As Americans, we were horrified to learn what was happening in Europe, yet we had no clue what was happening in our own backyard.
Even more than a history lesson, this piece is one about family and the bonds that unite us across generations or cultures. ALLEGIANCE is not dissimilar to hit shows like Fun Home, Fiddler on the Roof, The Color Purple, Les Miserables, or even The Lion King in its exploration of family. When you see how close this family once was and how America's horrific treatment of them tears them apart, it's nearly impossible not to tear up a little bit.
Adding to the emotion of the piece is actor George Take's real life experience. It was his own childhood, largely spent in internment camps, that inspired the show. Seeing his ability to live his character nightly without any resentment toward his past is the ultimate example of forgiveness. Telly Leung carries this show on his back with drive and conviction, showing us that he is one of Broadway's brightest young stars. This brings us to Lea Salonga, a revelation whose Broadway return is akin to Judy Kuhn's Broadway return in Fun Home. Salonga expertly holds the audience in the palm of her hand as she carries the vocal heft of the show. Every word and every note out of her mouth are so laden with emotion than you shouldn't be surprised if you find yourself sobbing through the piece. But, I'll let you decide for yourself because you must see this remarkable show. It is only here for two weeks and it will be one of those shows that if you miss it, you will regret it.