Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Art Of PersuAsian (Stage Review: Allegiance, Old Globe Theater)

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized the forced evacuation of more than 120,000 Japanese people living in the West Coast (a lot of whom were Japanese-Americans) and sent them to internment camps all over the United States. These people were forced to uproot everything they had. At the time, the American government insisted there were no racial prejudice in the decision, they decades later, they recanted and apologized. This incident is the basis for the musical "Allegiance," which opened last night at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California.  I thought the story was interesting and unique, and I had high hopes for this production, which begins its pre-Broadway run. The book, by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione, is wonderfully written, with a great balance of the historical and the romantic. However, the music was a case of schizophrenia: it toggled between generic ballads, pop songs with tinges of Japanese indigenous melodies, and angry.ironic pieces. I wish it had a more cohesive sound - there is one song, "With You," that sounded like songs from the WW2 big-band area that was melodic and appropriate for the piece that made me wish was the style of the whole show.The direction is solid, too, if a bit uninspired: there are numbers reminiscent of other shows: one number is derivative of the Master Of Ceremony one from "Cabaret," and there seems to be an unconscious attempt to crib from "Miss Saigon."  Lea Salonga, as Kei Kimura, runs with the show.  It is amazing that she sounds just as good as she did in "Miss Saigon," which catapulted her to stardom more than two decades ago. Even her acting, which was tentative then, is assured and solid here. No wonder the show is basically handed to her. She is given a lot of solos, some of which do not forward the story. Don't get me wrong, it was nice to listen to her sing, but this ain't her concert. Telly Leung, as Sammy Kimura, is the heart of the piece and tries his best to fill large shoes, but in my opinion is miscast: I wanted someone with more commanding stage presence (I suspect he fares better on television)  When he is on stage with Salonga, his voice is dwarfed by hers. George Takei's as the elder Sammy Kimura bookends the show, and delivers. His character is fully three dimensional when he is playing it while on Leung's hands it is not as realized. All in all, "Allegiance" is still very much an imperfect show, and I wonder if it's broad enough for a Broadway stage. I also wonder, in this day and age, if the subject is much too niche for a mainstream audience. I still believe there's a great show there somewhere in this production, I just don't think it is on stage at the Old Globe.

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