George Takei’s Allegiance Sheds Light on a Dark Period in U.S. History

Japanese internment during WWII is heavy material for a Broadway musical, but it works

The musical Allegiance starring George Takei made its Los Angeles debut Wednesday night at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo. The Broadway show about the Japanese-American experience during World War II is inspired by the true-life story of the Star Trek star, who was born just over the Los Angeles River in Boyle Heights.

When I was a little boy, politicians used fear and racism against people of Japanese descent in this country,” the actor and activist said in 2016. The Takei family joined more than 120,000 people, many of whom were American citizens, forced to defend their loyalty to this country while locked away for years in desolate military camps. The awful reality of this episode is brought home not only by the gravitas of the always-terrific Takei and his personal history, but also by the fact that the theater is just steps away from the corner where the entire Japanese population of Los Angeles was rounded up and sent away in 1942.

L-R) Scott Watanabe as Tatsuo Kimura, George Takei as Ojii-chan, Jordan Goodsell as Hakujin, Elena Wang as Kei Kimura, and Ethan Le Phong as Sammy Kimura

Photograph by Michael Lamont

This is some heavy material, so the musical format is unexpected. If you can handle good, fun, Broadway song-and-dance stuff (some of the cast, including high-energy, big-smile Ethan Le Phong, have a background in Disney musicals) juxtaposed with the grimness of wartime, you’ll be OK. The young characters try to keep up a normal life in the harsh environment with baseball and swing dancing. It’s a lot of fun, but resist the urge to dance along with the bouncy big-band numbers. It just doesn’t seem right.

Elena Wang as Kei Kimura and Ethan Le Phong as Sammy Kimura in the Los Angeles premiere of Allegiance

Several years ago, the Japanese American National Museum exhibited an actual barracks from one of the camps. I remember how flimsy it seemed and that I couldn’t imagine having to spend the night inside. The thin stage flats transmit the emptiness of those buildings, and some of the lighting effects go a long way toward capturing feelings of discomfort and disorientation.

The cast performing “Gaman” in the Los Angeles premiere of Allegiance

Decades after the war ended, the U.S. government issued an apology to the internees, and members of the all-Japanese-American 442nd infantry regiment helped build the Go For Broke National Education Center downtown. Engraved on their monument is a quote from president Harry S. Truman: “You not only fought the enemy…you fought prejudice and won.”

Allegiance, Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., downtown; through April 1.

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