Q&A with GEORGE TAKEI (“Sam Kimura/Ojii-chan”)
What inspired you to work on Allegiance?
GEORGE TAKEI: Ever since my early 20s, I have been speaking out about my childhood imprisonment by my own government in barbed-wire camps simply because of my Japanese ancestry. I helped found the Japanese American National Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, to institutionalize this experience of Japanese Americans during WWII. Through it all, I always had in mind to dramatize the story. Then, I met – in a Broadway theater of all places – a talented composer-lyricist, Jay Kuo, who said the story needs to be a musical. Being a musical theater fan myself, I shared his excitement about the idea. But it was really Jay’s passion for the idea of a musical on the internment of Japanese Americans that gave rise to the project.
What were some of the most rewarding aspects of working on this production?
GEORGE TAKEI: Working with the cast of the Los Angeles production was so fun and productive. We had a brand-new cast of very talented performers together with five actors from the Broadway cast. So, we had new chemistry and found new relationships with each other. We had a new director, Snehal Desai, and a new choreographer, Rumi Oyama, which meant new ideas, new movements, new inspirations. Same script but everything else, fresh and different. The challenge was exciting and stimulating.
Given the recent political climate, Allegiance feels astutely current in its examination of race, discrimination, and patriotism. What do you hope people can take away from watching this musical?
GEORGE TAKEI: Unlike the divided nation we are today, America during WWII was a nation united in the war effort – as well as in war hysteria and racism. Alas, Japanese Americans, a small minority, were the focus of that racist hysteria. At times, the majority can be wrong. What was missing was sound political leadership to stand for the shining ideals of our democracy. In Allegiance, we share the pain, anguish and the damage done to people with whom we connect. We, the audience, become determined to prevent that kind of injustice from recurring again. We hope for a nation united in its humanity.
Allegiance is notable for being one of the few Asian American ensemble musical productions. What other stories from Asian American history would you like to see covered in future Broadway shows?
GEORGE TAKEI: The lead role of Sammy Kimura is played by a Vietnamese American, Ethan Le Phong, who was born in Vietnam and was a boat person at three years old. He and his extended family of 17 bobbed around on the South China Sea until they landed in Thailand to be placed in a refugee camp. Through the generosity of a Chicago philanthropist, Ethan and his family were brought to the US. Now he is doing a terrific job playing the lead in Allegiance. His is an epic emigrant story. To me, all stories of emigrants of whatever time, from wherever they come, of whatever race are rich with drama and a powerful source for future Broadway shows. We have just scratched the surface of a rich vein of stories to uplift the spirit of audiences.