George Takei’s ‘Allegiance’ plots a life away from Broadway
NEW YORK – Theatergoers’ allegiance to “Allegiance” on Broadway may not have been strong, but its creators vow to get their musical seen elsewhere.
“I know it has a life,” said George Takei, who helped turn his childhood memories of being forced into a Wyoming internment camp into the show, which he also stars in.
Producers, who have announced the show will close on Feb. 14, are looking into potential touring productions and investigating whether it might fit in schools.
A version also is been looked at on the West Coast, where Takei senses “a magnetic pull.”
“This is just a jumping-off point for the story to continue to be told,” said Lorenzo Thione, a producer and co-book writer. “Obviously we’re disappointed that we can’t continue to tell this story on Broadway but the reasons are so external to the show itself.”
“Allegiance” is a multigenerational tale with two love stories that’s framed by a Japanese-American war veteran looking back on his family’s time in a camp. It co-stars Lea Salonga and Telly Leung.
The show had a premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego and, when it opened in New York on Oct. 6, marked the first Asian-led cast of a musical on Broadway in more than a decade.
“For the first time for a long time, we see Asian-Americans portraying an Asian-American story in roles that do not feel stereotypical Asian-American,” said Thione.
But the show has struggled to grow an audience and has lately been making only 40 percent of its potential box-office haul, despite some good reviews.
It will close after some 150 performances, but may fare better in San Francisco or Seattle, where there is memory of the camps.
Takei and Thione said it was inevitable that their depiction of a searing moment in U.S. history would be a hard sell, but once people came, they said it was loved.
“It’s not that the material doesn’t work for the people that come, it’s that not enough people believe it’s a story that they would connect with,” said Thione.
The arrival of “Allegiance” was cheered as part of a wave of shows featuring non-white stories told by either non-white actors or ones who rarely get to shine on Broadway.
It joined the Cuban immigrant story “On Your Feet!” as well as the hit retelling of first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s life by a young African-American and Latino cast.
A revival of “Spring Awakening” also mixed hearing and deaf performers, featured the first Broadway actor in a wheelchair and became the first show on Broadway to conduct its ticket lottery in American Sign Language.
“Allegiance” can boast of attracting Asian-Americans to Broadway – the usual 7 percent average leapt to 37 percent at the Longacre Theatre – and it increased the number of actors of Asian descent who got a break on the stage.
“There’s a lot that we feel proud of and some of the smallest things are the ones that I actually feel proudest of, including the fact that this production has given its Broadway debut to several people,” said Thione.
The show’s depiction of events more than 70 years ago never seemed ancient thanks to a U.S. presidential election that kicked up questions of refugees, loyalty and citizenship. (The show now reserves a seat for Donald Trump for every performance.)
When it closes, some 120,000 people will have seen it on Broadway – the same number of Japanese-Americans incarcerated during World War II.
Takei, of “Star Trek” fame, said he’s been gratified to see blond, blue-eyed people in tears after his show, stunned to learn that such inhumanity could have happened to U.S. citizens.
“This is an American story. We may look different from what is popularly conceived of as American, but we are Americans,” he said.