Disclaimer: I am ashamed to say that this has been sitting in my draft folder since October. I loved the show and sad that it’s closing!
As a young Asian American who was obsessed with watching the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, I gravitated towards Lea Salonga as Eponine. Now that I have grown up, I have learned that everyone loves Eponine for the universally relatable unrequited love storyline, but Lea Salonga has remained my favorite. Add in roles like Princess Jasmine and Mulan, and you got yourself a favorite singing voice.
Much like Idina Menzel in If/Then, I figured Salonga wouldn’t return to Broadway in a bad show. Then I started listening to cynical theater writers who didn’t give Allegiance a chance, with a new creative team and a seemingly non-musical friendly subject matter. I didn’t know what to expect when the show started, but I shouldn’t have worried.
For the third time this year, I had to sit back down after the standing ovation to get a handle of my emotions. I hadn’t expected the show to be as emotional as it was, but it was a truly beautiful story. While a few of the songs in Act I seemed a little too cheery and a little unnecessary, you need to have those happy, upbeat, all American numbers to keep things light and to get people on board before it all gets dark. I guess for white audiences, you need to drive home all the “Americanisms” that people of color have adapted. And while I understand completely that Asians can be as American as apple pie, the creative team really drove that point home. The emotional swell really picks up in Act II. “Itetsuita” is a hauntingly beautiful number, where the lighting and sound design was perfectly executed, and still gives me chills (now three months later).
Despite being marketing as “George Takei’s show,” Takei was not as big of a role, but he did make the most of his time on stage. He milks his comedic moments at every turn, and brought a deep gravitas to Older Sammy during the finale. And Telly Leung, oft-mentioned as underserved Warbler Wes in Glee, was a great Young Sam. He was a great central figure in the story and I’m so glad he finally has a starring role under his belt! Katie Rose Clarke and Michael K. Lee are also fantastic! While I don’t expect them to make waves during award season, their performances are certainly ones to remember!
I was very taken with the set design of the internment camps. The framed structures imply not just the humble dwellings the Japanese Americans were forced to live in, but the metaphorical hoops the internees had to jump through just to be seen as Americans. The sparseness is a visual reminder of the hopelessness and desperation the camps provided.
While I understand people’s hesitance to see a show with a sad subject matter, seeing Allegiance is important for a few reasons. First of all, the fact that Asian Americans are being portrayed on the stage, in a new musical no less, is a huge deal! Instead of shows like Miss Saigon, South Pacific, or The King and I, where the Western world comes into the East during troubled times, the show features Asians that live in America, because guess what? We live in America! It’s also important to support Asians on stage while shows are being made. It’s disappointing that the show is closing in February, but everyone should go see it while they still have the chance!
As a side note, this is the third show I’ve seen with Aaron Albano in the ensemble. In Allegiance, he also is the understudy for Sammy. As much as I love Leung, I am intrigued with what Albano would do as the lead. Asian actors have so few opportunities for the lead, and this is a show with great actors.
It’s always disappointing when shows you love close, but it’s a shame when great, original, new musicals with a fantastic cast don’t have the staying power for Broadway audiences. With The King and I still playing, it was great to say that two shows with Asian actors front and center were on Broadway at the same time. I’m sure it’s the highest number of Asian Americans ever to be on Broadway at the same time, and that is something to be proud of. As they say, “Gaman!”