“I don’t want to see this show,” I suddenly realized as the curtain went up at Allegiance. I’d had a long and tumultuous day, and seeing (what I assumed would be) a heavy-but-ultimately-uplifting story about the Japanese internment camps of World War II sounded like a dreadful idea. This is not the way you want to feel at a Broadway show, and if any other critic admitted such a thing at the beginning of a review, I’d be skeptical of what kind of review he or she would write.
So there’s my caveat. But guess what? I was right. Allegiance was just as I feared. I applaud its ambition and its terrific cast, but unfortunately, this is a musical that doesn’t contain the craft it would need to tell the story it wants to tell. At least not in a believable, moving, entertaining way.
Allegiance is loosely based on the life story of George Takei, and the scope of its story is enormous. The family drama: A (mostly) happy Japanese family is sent to a camp after Pearl Harbor, igniting latent father-son conflicts. The commentary on America: the United States cruelly confined hundreds of thousands Japanese Americans during World War II, forced them to live in squalid camps, and sent off its Japanese-American soldiers on senselessly dangerous missions. And the meet-cute romance: both daughter and son have stereotypical musical theater love stories.
You’d need a spectacularly well-crafted show to switch gears between these elements. But Allegiance is a mess. It’s one of those musicals that drives me crazy: full of corny power ballads, awkward plot contrivances, and comedic songs that aren’t funny. (I kept thinking: “This is what people who hate musicals think musicals are like! Aaargh!”)
Need a bright side? The cast is wonderful. George Takei is totally adorable and appealing in his double role: he briefly appears as the older Sammy, but spends most of his time onstage as the mischievous Grandpa character Ojii-chan. Lea Salonga is — as ever — in fabulous voice as Kei, though I’m not sure her character gives her much to work with. Finally, Telly Leung is very winning and charismatic as Kei’s brother Sammy, who later becomes a heroic soldier.
True confession time: I wrote this post a month ago, immediately after seeing Allegiance, but felt guilty about its negativity and kept postponing publishing it. I kept thinking maybe I should soften my criticism, and even now I’m still not sure I should hit publish. But on the other hand, I’m overdue for a post. And anyway I haven’t changed my mind. You want to be a Les Miz, you’ve got to execute like Les Miz does. Allegiance doesn’t.
My Grade: C-
Ticket price: $51.00
Worth it: No
Running Time: 2:20
Standing Ovation Watch: Oh, probably. But to be honest I don’t recall for certain. I need to start writing this stuff down.