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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
ALLEGIANCE
at Longacre Theatre

ILLEGAL INTERNMENT
By MATT WINDMAN

  Telly Leung and company/ Ph: Matthew Murphy

It’s so depressing when a new musical that explores an important historical figure or event turns out to be a dud. It happened earlier this season with Amazing Grace (about the abolitionist John Newton), and it’s also the case with Allegiance, which was inspired by the 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps during World War II. 78-year-old George Takei, who appears in Allegiance in a supporting role, was himself interned when he was a young boy and spearheaded the musical's development. 
 
Framed as a flashback, Allegiance shows how a West Coast family is taken at gunpoint to a camp in Wyoming, where the water is contaminated and medical supplies are limited. While clean-cut son Sammy (Telly Leung), who develops feelings for a Caucasian nurse (Katie Rose Clarke), is eager to join the army and prove himself a patriotic American, fellow internee Frankie (Michael K. Lee) incites a protest against the government and receives support from Sammy’s older sister Kei (Lea Salonga). Sammy ends up on the cover of Life magazine, and Frankie ends up in prison. Once Sammy returns home with a serious case of post-traumatic stress, he breaks off all ties with his family.
 
The musical gets derailed by Jay Kuo’s weak, Frank Wildhorn-style score (full of derivative music and pedestrian lyrics), busy, broad nature of the plotting, and Stafford Arima’s unexciting staging. The handsome Leung (Glee, Godspell) highlights his character’s heated emotional transformation. Salonga, best remembered as Kim in Miss Saigon and a major star in the Philippines, has little to work with except a cheesy power ballad or two. Takei has a warm presence, but is relegated to the background.
 
Allegiance does raise awareness about an uncomfortable, overlooked chapter in American history (even though its depiction of the conditions in the detention camp have been called into question by some in recent articles). It also marks the first musical about Asian-Americans since Flower Drum Song. Additionally, its subject matter is especially relevant right now, with many prominent politicians making proposals to keep track of Muslims in reaction to fears of international terrorism. But in spite of all this, the show is unlikely to attract a large audience given its considerable deficits.
 
In truth, Allegiance probably should have been a drama instead of a musical in which Takei had a larger role. Although dark historical events have been explored in musicals with extremely compelling results (i.e. The Scottsboro Boys, Assassins), the creators of Allegiance were unable to meet such a heavy challenge.

 


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