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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Gaman dignity, pride as we stand side by side. Even when all hope seems gone Gaman, Gaman, Gaman. . .— Kei Kimura.
George Takei (Photo by Michael Lamont)
At one point, the elderly Ojii-chan uses it to cover the wind chimes he is not allowed to have during his forced stay in an internment camp. The stars-and-stripes is also the centerpiece of projection designer Adam Flemming's archway ringing the stage at the Aratani Theatre where Allegiance is having its L.A. premiere. Fleming's flag never entirely comes into focus, a fact which, given what the play's protagonists are experiencing, seems rather fitting.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, three generations of the Kimura family are rounded up from their San Francisco home and relocated to a Wyoming internment camp along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women. With America at war, pretty much every American-dwelling person of Japanese descent is considered a potential threat, even those who are trying to enlist in the U.S. military. The men who are willing to go to war and sign an oath of allegiance to the country that has treated them so shabbily may get better treatment. Young Sammy Kimura takes the oath and enlists, a move which rips his already frayed family apart.

Despite being a bit on the nose in its messaging, the historically based Allegiance feels a lot more timely in the present day climate of xenophobic messages than it probably did during its brief Broadway run in late 2015. That production featured the Broadway debut of Star Trek alum George Takei. whose early years are the partial inspiration for this tale. The actor has re-upped for the L.A. production co-produced by East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center at the JACCC's Aratani Theatre. Featuring a cast of 15 and an 11- person band, Snehal Desai's production is being touted as the largest physical production in the EWP's history.

Desai's production should prove equally rousing both to musical theater buffs and to historians who have an interest in this lesser-tapped wartime narrative. The story by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione is largely straightforward, occasionally maneuvering into morally difficult areas, and Kuo's easily digested score is by turns sentimental or uplifting as circumstances dictate.

Takei, playing the dual role of both the elderly Sam and Sammy's grandfather, infuses the production with the necessary gravitas and is every bit the production's anchor, but Desai has surrounded his star with a strong and versatile company. In Elena Wang, who plays the play's female lead, Desai has found a firecracker.

The play is barely 15 minutes old when family golden boy Sammy (Ethan Le Phong) and spinster elder sister Kei (Wang) are carted off to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming along with their father Tatsuo (Scott Watanabe) and grandfather Ojii-chan (Takei). The elders don't adapt well to the displacement and sickness runs rampant throughout the camp. Every bit a charmer, Sammy starts chatting up comely nurse Hannah Campbell (Natalie Holt MacDonald) to hustle better supplies. Kei, meanwhile, catches the eye of Frankie Suzuki (Eymard Cabling), a detainee who, in his previous life, was a USC law school student. Like Kei (and unlike Sammy), Frankie is a resister. So is Tatsuo who is willing to accept solitary confinement before he signs any kind of loyalty oath.

As this tale is told almost entirely through the eyes of its Japanese and Japanese American characters, Allegiance has but two Caucasian characters: Hannah and a brutish camp guard (Jordan Goodsell). The play's other morally conflicted persona is Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe), the Washington DC-based executive secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League who checks in via phone from time to time on the detainees and promises that he's working on making things better, but is never imprisoned himself.

As each member of the Kimura family makes his (or her) fateful choice, Allegiance moves toward inevitable clashes: family member vs. family member, country vs. country. Kei and Sammy both have plenty of backbone, and their clashes are ultimately more with elements of cultural tradition than with each other. La Phong convincingly takes Sammy from a bright-eyed idealist to jaded former patriot. Wang has a soaring voice, beautifully suited to handle the bulk of Allegiance's most stirring songs &emdash; both the ballads and the rallying anthems. The play contains plenty of both.

Desai, music director Marc Macalintal and choreographer Rami Oyama collectively nail the production's period specific wartime spirit. It's most evident in numbers like "Resist," The love duet "Without You" and certainly the "442 Victory Swing."

Amidst the general company's solidness, there is a special bit of delight in watching Takei slyly making his way through the proceedings. Both as the quietly wise grandfather and as the elderly embittered Sammy, the actor keeps us firmly in his corner at all times. Whatever outrage we may feel toward the history that Allegiance tracks, our loyalty to this old pro should be universal.

For Curtainup's review of the Broadway production, which includes a song list go here.

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Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione
Music and Lyrics by Jay Kuo
Directed by Snehal Desai
Cast: George Takei, Elena Wang, Greg Watanabe, Scott Watanabe, Janelle Dote, Ethan Le Phong, Eymard Cabling, Natalie Holt MacDonald, Cesar Cipriano, Jordan Goodsell, Sharline Liu, Miyuki Miyagi, Glenn Shiroma, Chad Takeda, Grace Yoo
Scenic Design: Se Hyun Oh
Lighting Design: Karyn Lawrence
Sound Design: Cricket S. Myers
Costume Design: Halei Parker
Properties Design: Glenn Michael Baker
Fight Choreographer: Cesar Cipriano
Projection Design: Adam Flemming
Music Director: Marc Macalintal
Orchestrations and Arrangements: Lynne Shankel
Stage Manager: Morgan Zupanski
Choreography: Rumi Oyama
Plays through April 1, 2018 at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro Street, Los Angeles. (213) 680-3700,
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes with one 20 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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