New York City Theater
A little less “Oedipus Rex” and a little more “Pacific Overtures” might have benefited “Allegiance,” the sincere, straightforward, pedestrian new musical. Mashing together father-son conflicts with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II amid scenes of racism, combat and romance sounds like fodder for exciting drama.
But almost none of this is sufficiently developed nor connected in meaningful ways. There’s little to hold interest despite the potentially volatile mixture of injustice and patriotism. Characters for the most part are shallow, the music is non-descript, the lyrics banal (music and lyrics by Jay Kuo) and the scenery restless.
There are moments that work, moments that you hope will propel the story forward and engage the audience in more than a prosaic telling of an admittedly dark chapter in American life. One of those possibilities comes at the end of Act One, bleeding into the beginning of Act Two.
Sammy, the son in the Kimura family that has been forcibly uprooted from its home, decides that the only way to free his family from what has become a prison is to enlist in the service and show bravery in the face of dangerous missions. His decision is contrasted with the rebellious Frankie’s plan to defy the authorities, resulting in the show’s most biting songs, the satirical “Paradise” and the urgent “Resist.” When Sammy, in uniform, salutes at the same time that Frankie raises a clenched fist, at last the struggle between two factions is joined.
But the creators have too much else on their minds, such as the father-son battle which over-extends an already lengthy evening. More pointed is having the interned listen in shock to the announcement of the bombing of Hiroshima, contrasted with another satirical sequence as three U. S. soldiers comment on that horrific event with a chirrupy “442 Victory Swing.”
The juxtaposition is trenchant but undernourished. Are we meant to infer that these Japanese-Americans have ancestral, emotional ties to Japan and the U.S. is indifferent to suffering? That would add a sorely lacking layer of ambiguity and profundity by the book writers Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione.
Anchoring the work is George Takei (Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek”), who actually spent his childhood incarcerated with his family in several camps. He plays an older Sammy in prologue and epilogue and Sammy’s grandfather in the present-day scenes. The latter is a heart-tugging role, handled with honesty and charm.
Telly Leung is energetic and engaging as Sammy, singing with rich power, while Lea Salonga (a Tony winner for “Miss Saigon”) sings gloriously and acts Sammy’s sister with an emphasis on the character’s pragmatism and benevolence. Greg Watanabe is striking as U.S. bureaucrat Mike Masaoka, who bridges the gap between acceptance and resistance. But it’s Michael K. Lee who shines the most; as Frankie, the most compelling character, Lee is hot-headed without becoming the stereotypical idealistic firebrand, adding humanity to what could be just a plot device.
Andrew Palermo’s choreography is limp and undistinguished, while Stafford Arima’s direction keeps things going until bogged down by the script’s verbosity. Perhaps the evening’s biggest shock is finding the wonderful Scott Wise, another Tony winner (for “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway”), in the chorus. He’s as wasted as this show’s opportunities.
--David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 15, 2015