THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE LAW 9066 IS THE TRAGIC STORY OF ACTOR GEORGE TAKEI’S PERSONAL ACCOUNT
OF ROOSEVELT'S WWII ORDER.
The dust and wind of Heart Mountain relocation camp takes us back to heartbreak in 1942 at CCCT’s current powerful production of ALLEGIANCE. Contra Costa Civic Theatre celebrates a stunning opening of their 59th season with the Northern California premiere of this new musical now on stage through October 21. The musical retelling of “Star Trek” actor, producer George Takei’s experience in the Japanese internment camps is tragic yet important. Wonderful Music and lyrics by Jay Kuo with a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione.
The musical was first called the “Japanese-American internment musical” opened in 2015 on Broadway to mixed reviews and then closed after three months. In 2018 the regional rights brought Takei back to the stage as EAST WEST PLAYERS produced the musical at their Little Tokyo venue in Los Angeles. The reboot sold out houses and the Trump era made this story a bit more timely.
CCCT Artistic Director Marilyn Langbehn was able to secure the rights to stage the second regional production here in the Bay Area; “There is nothing more powerful than a group of people gathered together to experience a story,” says Langbehn; “it allows us to make sense of our world in ways no other art form does. We are honored that the producers of Allegiance have entrusted us with the Bay Area premiere of their story. Allegiance, along with the rest of the season, seeks to tell the stories of our community through shared history, humor, music, and movement as we seek to shed light on our common humanity.”
The backstory of ALLIANCE includes George Takei being moved by the song “Inutil Useless” when he first saw Lin-Manuel’s IN THE HEIGHTS. It reminded him of his Father being helpless during WWII. Five year old Takei and his family were forced out of their Los Angeles home to a camp in dusty Arkansas. Miranda’s song touched him so much that he was inspired to create a musical about his Internment camp experience.
Directed by the award winning actor and singer Lily Tung Crystal, she has come full circle with this project after appearing in the early readings of the musical back in 2011. Crystal says “(I) got the chance to perform with Takei in an early reading, nearly a decade later I feel like I am coming home.” She goes on to say “Japanese were incarcerated in camps from 1942 to 1946, it was a period that cost them everything. ALLEGIANCE is so powerful because it allows us to experience that tragedy, empathize, and most importantly, remember.”
Crystal has assembled an excellent Asian cast of the Bay Area’s best, including the dapper senior Dennis Yen as Ojii-Chan and the older Sammy. He is the heart of the story and the role was played by Takei on Broadway. Yen sings “Ishi Kara Ishi” with the marvelous Lindsay Hirata as Kei Kimura, their voices are both vibrant.
The splendid Vinh Nguyen warmly portrays young Sammy Kimura and is ideal in his many solo’s including “What Makes a Man” that opens the story. Sammy is the wise patriarch of a hard-working clan of immigrant farmers in the Salinas county of NorCal were hundreds of families lost their homes. 23,000 Bay Area Japanese families lost their civil rights and were taken to ten prison camps including Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno here in the Bay Area for the duration of the war.
The cast of 20 opens the story with “Do Not Fight The Storm” that describes the drastic changes about to transform their lives. Choreographer Allison Paraiso-Sillicani creates some eye catching variety in the few numbers that require the cast to dance. This is primarily, the true story of the abuse in the camps - it was difficult for Acito and Kuo to bring that classic musical spirit. “Get in The Game” which is all about playing baseball within the camp seems out of place but proves a show stopper and features the energy of this cast.
It is a lot of history to pack into a two and half hour musical, but It also provides a showcase for Hirata, whose vocals turn her solos into anthems like “Higher”. Nick Rodrigues plays Frankie who presues Kei as they sing “This is Not Over”. Rodrigues has an rousing tenor voice who has a show stopper performance in his song “Resist” that opens the second act, and later in “Nothing in Our Way”.
The accomplished company and Sillicani bring jazz hands to one of the few high energy musical numbers including “Paradise’. Frankie jokes “why are Japanese american kids so good in math, because they spend the whole year in concentration camps”. Hirata, Rodriques and Nguyen are the perfect brother and sister duo for the more pleasant first act numbers.
The anthem song “Allegiance” features the company and Bryan Pangilinan as Tatsuo, Jimmy’s father who disagrees with his son’s need to join the US Army. The need to show Allegiance to the U.S. vs the Japanese traditions builds the conflict in this family story. As Sammy prepares to join the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat team he falls for the camp white nurse Hanna played by the marvelous Emma Onasch. Their song “I Oughta Go” and “With You” reflect the struggle they both have to hide their true love. Onasch has a wonderful voice and she sores in her solo “Should I” that connects her concern she has developed for the ailing camp seniors as she goes against the military code and her country.
The story includes two, angry white “Hakujin” or “non-asian” heavies, played by Domonic Tracy and Ed Nattenberg who bash and bully the families. Tracy has a great solo as he changes his mood when he plays a big band crooner in “With You” along side Nguyen and Hirata. Director Crystal’s seamlessly staged production moves well, associate director May Liang keeps the asian accents authentic without sounding parodied or exaggerated. The wide open space of bleak dusty Wyoming, is represented by designer award winning Kuo-Hao Lo minimalist set that includes the garden that becomes Ojii-Chan’s main love. The cabins are bleek and the slight view of the chain link fences add that confined chill to Hao Lo’s design.
Dramatic lighting by in house expert Courtney Johnson omits the use of projections as in the original, but her sync lighting was moody and kept the sold out audience feeling the chill of the camp, and the horror of the deadly blood bath in France. Crystal's staging of the 442nd's bloody battle scenes are compelling, but the drama of the narrative can seem distracting as the writers tried their best to keep the musical pleasant in such a tragic story.
Music director Kenji Higashihama reproduces Kuo’s lively, 26-tune songs with compelling chorus by the keen company. His six member backstage orchestra was well mixed by sound designer Michael Kelly. The music mixes contemporary ballads, period swing-dance numbers and accents of traditional Japanese melodies. Dialect Coach Patrick Chew seemed to keep the cast authentic, and Ranko Ogura created some tradition Asian dance for “Wishes on The Wind”.
The 40’s costumes designed by Liza Danz were authentic with fur lined coats for the women and sleek slacks for the men. The Army uniforms met the demand for the military theme for many of the scenes. Danz highlight is the jackets and hats, along with the period props by Devon LaBelle. She kept the families busy with authentic luggage, medical needs for the camp hospital and the icon radio for Roosevelts announcement. Stage managers Mackenzie Laurel Orvis and Katy Miodzik kept the busy cast moving on and off stage with ease. Fight director Dave Maier gives the show its conflict with the imprisoned men and soldiers.
Outstanding performances include the controversial head of the Japanese American Citizens League, Mr Masaoka played by the fully realized Doy Charnsupharindr whose policy of collaboration with the War Relocation Agency left deep scars in the Japanese-American community to this day. His brother played by the exceptional Christopher Jaun is also featured in “The Victory Swing” that includes the polished Melvign Badiola, Juliet Evans, Joseph Alvarado, Pauli Amornkul, Jomar Martinez, Anne Yumi Kobori, Marah Sotelo, Celeste Kamiya, Alvin Castillo Bunales and the high stepping dance captain Nicole Ogata.
Nguyen and Hirata brother and sister explode to close the hurtful past in this family tragedy and the tears flow in “How Can You Go”. This is an important testament to the power of the human spirit. ALLEGIANCE follows the Kimuras as they struggle between duty or protest, family bonds and forbidden loves. The powerful musical moves you and their was not a dry eye in the house during the emotional closing number “Still A Chance”. The two authors visited this show and cast opening weekend and were impressed by this more intimate production. Next up at CCCT is the new comedy RIPCORD that opens November 16th, and the local premiere of ALL THE WAY in April 2019, but in the meantime, this is an important powerhouse GO SEE fall musical to add to your list.
Contra Costa Civic Theatre Presents
The Northern California Premiere
Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione
Music by Jay Kuo
Directed by Lily Tung Crystal
Music Director Kenji Highashihama
Must Close October 21
Contra Costa Civic Theatre,
951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito
2 hours, 20 minutes, including one intermission.
Tickets: 510-524-9012, www.ccct.org
Join CCCT on Facebook
Photo’s by Ben Krantz
CREATIVE TEAM Director: Lily Tung Crystal, Associate Director: May Liang, Music Director: Kenji Higashihama, Choreographer: Allison Paraiso-Silicani, Stage Manager: Mackenzie Laurel Orvis, Set Designer: Kuo-Hao Lo, Costume Designer: Lisa Danz, Lighting Designer: Courtney Johnson, Sound Designer: Michael Kelly, Props Designer: Devon LaBelle, Fight Choreographer: Dave Maier, Dialect Coach: Patrick Chew
The song PARADISE by the Broadway Cast