Allegiance is this new musical starring George Takei (better known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek). He’s gained somewhat of a cult following through various forms of social media (Twitter, Facebook). He provides socio-political commentary via these forms of social media recently with the new Trump administration’s Muslim Ban. Unfortunately, he also wasn’t spared the recent sexual harassment allegations that has some high profile stars falling from grace.
Putting all the non-theater/non-musical issues aside, this musical portrays the struggles of a Japanese Americans during World War 2 and the Japanese internment camps. In particular, the story revolves around a family and their struggles. Although probably not without controversy itself, this musical has a number of unique aspects that other musicals so far have not done.
- It’s produced by Asian Americans.
- It has a predominant Asian American cast.
- It puts the Japanese internment and it’s ramifications as a talking point.
The music has a very “classical musical” feel with strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion well represented. Spoken dialog is interspersed throughout. The character solos have that aspirational feel. The company songs have a mix of genres that range from traditional Japanese songs used in festivals to the more modern 1940s swing with respect to the time period. Honestly, it didn’t hit me with a wow factor like Rent (I actually disliked it initially) or Hamilton (I really loved it).
When watching the musical, I was struck by a number of different themes… some specifically Asian American but others more relevant to the current times. The first memorable theme occurred near the beginning of the play when the father made an interesting side comment of “not an A student but A minus.” This totally plays into the stereotypical High Expectation Asian Dad meme. If you don’t know, Asian parents have a very low tolerance for their children’s academic failure. Even Chloe Kim’s dad wants her to go to college! And she won a gold medal at the recent PyeongChang Winter Olympics!
Another theme that stayed with me was the power of the women especially Kei (the female lead) in the internment camps. Despite Asian culture being a patriarchal society favoring males over females, I find that Asian families nowadays tend to have a power dynamics emanating from the females. Certainly that was the case in the musical. And with the recent #MeToo movement and much talk of the disparity between men and women, it made me think that this particular theme holds a pretty significant place as one of the major themes in the musical. It was Kei who took over as the de facto mother when the real mother died. It was Kei who tried to keep the peace in the household between her brother and her dad. It was also Kei who stayed to take care of her grandfather up until the grandfather’s death. It was also Kei who again tried to patch things with her brother immediately after the war when he returned. And at the end, it was Kei who also again reached out to try to reconcile with her brother AFTER she had died. Honestly, modern society gives women way too little credit for the amount of work and amount of shit they have to put up with.
I would recommend watching this musical to think about the different themes that occurred in the 1940s that are still ongoing today: immigration, racism, segregation, civil disobedience, patriotism, family, power of women and forgiveness.