PAP CONTINUES THEIR 91st SEASON WITH THE BAY AREA PENINSULA PREMIERE OF THE POWERFUL “ALLEGIANCE"
THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTIVE LAW 9066
IS THE TRAGIC STORY OF ACTOR GEORGE TAKEI’S
PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF ROOSEVELT'S WWII ORDER.
Review by Vince Mediaa
Allegiance is timely and important as we celebrate Asian American Heritage Month
The dust and wind of Heart Mountain relocation camp takes us back to heartbreak in 1942 in PAP’s current powerful production of ALLEGIANCE. The Palo Alto Players continues with their stunning 91st season with the Bay Area Peninsula premiere of this important musical now on stage through May 8th. The musical retelling of “Star Trek” actor, producer George Takei’s experience in the Japanese internment camps is tragic yet important. Music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. The musical was first called the “Japanese-American internment musical” that opened in 2015 on Broadway to mixed reviews and then closed only 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.
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.
PAP had to cancel this production during the covid months. Nguyen has re-cast this new staging with an excellent Asian company of the Bay Area’s best, including the authentic senior Ron Munekawa as Ojii-Chan who also plays the older Sammy. He is the heart of the story and the role was played by Takei on Broadway. Munekawa sings “Ishi Kara Ishi” with the powerhouse Marah Sotelo as Kei Kimura, their voices are both vibrant.
The stellar Marah Sotelo plays Kei Kimuar, Sammy's sister and the family's important tie to keep Sammy loyal to his father. Sotelo’s has an amazing voice in the show stopping “Higher” and the passionate “How Can You Go”. The forceful Jomar Martinez warmly portrays young Sammy Kimura and is terrific 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 where 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 passionate cast of 20 opens the story with “Do Not Fight The Storm” that describes the drastic changes about to transform their lives. Choreographer and assistant director Nicole Tung 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 to some tragic times. “Go to get in The Game” which is all about playing baseball within the camp seems out of place but proves the energy of this impressive cast.
Christopher J. Sotelo plays Frankie who pursues Kei as they sing “This is Not Over”. Christopher who sings this duet with his real life wife Marah, has an rousing tenor voice who has a (show stopper) “Resist” that opens the second act, and “Nothing in Our Way”. The accomplished company brings jazz hands and joy to one of the few high energy musical numbers in the first act “Paradise’. Frankie jokes “why are japanese American kids so good in math, because they spend the whole year in concentration camps”. Solelo, Martinez, and Bryan Pangilinan are the perfect brother and sister duo for the more positive mood first act numbers.
The anthem song “Allegiance” features the company and 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 Corinna Laskin. Their songs “I Oughta Go” and “With You” reflect the struggle they both have to hide their true love. Laskin has a wonderful voice and she slays 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 “Hakujin” or “non-asian” heavies, played by Justin Kerekes and Michael Paul Hirsh who bash and bully the families. Kerekes has a great solo as he changes his mood when he plays a big band crooner in “With You”. Director Nguyen seamlessly staged a combat battle, with the 442nd Combat team, a segregated unit composed of Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans). Most of the Japanese American soldiers were lost in this suicide battle. The lighting by Edward Hunter was impressive to create this deadly battle along with the eerie sound effects of Brandie Larkin filled the Lucie Stern stage with grief and sadness, it was very moving.
Dialect coach Patrick Chew keeps the Asian accents authentic without sounding exaggerated. The wide open space of bleak dusty Wyoming, is represented by designer Skip Epperson's set that includes the tags that were given to each prisoner as they loaded on the trains to the camps. The tags hang from the trees on the train station set. The garden that becomes Ojii-Chan’s main love is seen in one of his final scenes. The cabins and bleak slight view of the chain link fences add that confined chill to Epperson’s design. The projections are a highlight including the dark memory of the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima.
Music director Benjamin Belew reproduces Kuo’s lively, 26-tune songs with a full size seven piece orchestra and a compelling chorus by the keen company. Belew’s orchestra was well mixed by sound designer Larkin. The music mixes contemporary ballads, period swing-dance numbers and accents of traditional Japanese melodies. The 40’s costumes designed by Y Sharon Peng are authentic with fur lined coats for the women and sleek slacks for the men. The hand fans were authentic Japanese for the opening number created by assistant director Nicole Tung.
The Army uniforms met the demand for the military theme for many of the scenes. Peng’s highlight is the jackets and hats, along with the period props by Scott Ludwig. He kept the families busy with authentic luggage, medical needs for the camp hospital and the icon radio for Roosevelts announcement. Stage manager Alyx Enanora kept the busy cast moving on and off stage with ease. Tung created some traditional Asian dance for “Wishes on The Wind”.
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 Ethan Le is also featured in “The Victory Swing” that includes the polished Joseph Alvarado, Sharline Lu, Julia Wright, Brandon Gruber, Edmond Kwong, Yoshi Humfeld, and Cordelia Larsen, and the high stepping dance captain Cordelia Larsen and fight captain Andrew Mo. Two cast members honored family members who were confined in the camps, both Ron Munekawa, and Brandon Gruber grandparents survived the incarceration.
Sotelo and Martinez 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 there was not a dry eye in the house during the emotional closing number “Still A Chance”. Next up at PAP is the classic TWELFTH NIGHT opens June 10th, and August 26th SCHOOL OF ROCK opens. But in the meantime, ALLEGIANCE is an important powerhouse GO SEE spring musical that is important to celebrate Asian American Heritage Month May 2022.
Palo Alto Players Presents
The Bay Area Peninsula Premiere
Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo,
Lorenzo Thione Music by Jay Kuo
Directed by Vinh G. Nguyen
Music Director Benjamin Belew
Through: May 8th 2022
Lucie Stern Community Center,
1305 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94301
2 hours, 20 minutes, including one intermission
Join PAP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com
Virtual Access:On-demand 5/5 through 5/8
Photos by Scott Lasky
CAST INTERVIEWS - WITH VMEDIA ARTS GO SEE A SHOW Featuring Vinh G Nguyen