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Internment Musical Makes Its Mark on Broadway But Is Set to Close on Feb. 14

Lea Salonga and George Takei in a scene from Allegiance. ©Matthew Murphy

By Chris Hope For the North American Post

All good things must come to an end, but this end is coming far too soon. At the end of October, I had the privilege of attending a preview of Allegiance at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway.

I was more than a little apprehensive about the idea of an internment musical, but after witnessing the approach the team behind Allegiance had taken with the show, I quickly developed the firm belief that the production had the potential to represent the greatest opportunity of my generation for the Japanese American (JA) community to deliver the internment story to the widest possible audience.

Unfortunately, St. Valentine will be delivering a sad message this year; Allegiance has been slated to close on February 14.

Here is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for the Nikkei Voice to capture my impressions of the show after seeing the preview in October 2015:

George Takei has over 9 million likes on Facebook. Few in history have been able to directly market an audience like he can, and he’s been tracking the progress of Allegiance for his social media audience since he opened his Twitter account in 2011 (currently at nearly 1.8 million followers). That is an unprecedented advantage for advance publicity for a Broadway show.

As in Canada, the U.S. internment of JA’s remains a sensitive matter for many. There are several additional layers to the JA story that make it an even more nuanced and still divisive history when compared with the Japanese Canadian (JC) experience. Add to that the fact that keeping the U.S. internment story in the curriculum has been a challenge for American educators; general knowledge regarding the internment of JA’s across the U.S. is extremely low.

With its access to a diverse audience through Takei, Allegiance represents a make-or-break moment for the dissemination of the U.S. internment story. It simply must be “done right,” balancing history, community sensitivity, and commercial appeal.

As I was waiting for the show to begin, I reflected on the fact that there isn’t much “new” that I’ve experienced with regard to the recalling of internment history in many years. The curtain rose and I was quickly transported into the internment process. What a strange feeling.

Although the outcome of the JC/ JA internments was very different with regard to the treatment of property and the post-War treatment of “evacuees”, the process of the internments was similar enough that JC’s witnessing the show will easily see their ancestors on the stage throughout the production. I experienced more than a few moments of being deeply moved, empathizing with the characters as if they were my own family. My gosh, the affectations and approach to life between pre-War JA’s and JC’s was similar!

Where good theatre holds the possibility of transcending the stage, I was amazed at how quickly Allegiance demolished the barrier between the audience and the performers. By the end of the first act I already felt that, on a personal emotional level, the production was entirely successful. Keep your eye on the reviews after the formal opening of the show on November 8, 2015. I suspect that the critics will be pleasantly surprised.

I strongly recommend that all JC’s make the effort to witness the production in person for the rare opportunity to come as close as humanly possible to experiencing the internment chapter of our shared JC/JA history. At best you’ll commune with “family.” At worst you’ll witness an unprecedented social media phenomenon first-hand coupled with two hours of solid Broadway-caliber performances.

In stewarding the production from its unlikely concept to its Broadway opening, George Takei has come to personify the spirit that drives the JA family at the centre of the show: Gaman—persevering with patience and dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I am left with the hope that the production will leave a lasting legacy that all of those working to preserve the Japanese North American story will benefit from; the JC community has much to gain from the potential success of Allegiance.

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Allegiance plays at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway until February 14, 2016. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in JC/JA history and a desire for a true Broadway experience to attend. Tickets are now very limited but available on the show website at: allegiancemusical.com. The website will also provide information regarding future productions and plans for the musical.

Editor’s note: The article was originally published in the Discover Nikkei at www.discovernikkei.org managed by the Japanese American National Museum. The writer is a Toronto-based lawyer, writer and director of Hatsumi – One Grandmother’s Journey Through the Japanese Canadian Internment.