Group Scoop: How Allegiance Came to Broadway

Lea Salonga George Takei

Some things are worth waiting for: At 78, Hollywood and internet icon George Takei is finally making his Broadway debut. Even more notably, he’s making it in a musical loosely based on his own childhood experiences in the Wyoming internment camp where his Japanese-American family was imprisoned during World War II.

When he was a young child, Takei and his parents were arrested and sent to live in the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas and the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California. Even though Takei and his mother had been born in California, everyone of Japanese descent was considered suspect after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. By the next year, the U.S. government ordered people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the Pacific coast to relocate to camps in the Midwest. Between 110,000 and 120,000 people were relocated, more than half of whom were United States citizens. In the ensuing years, Takei has spoken out frequently about his imprisonment, and has worked to raise awareness of the dark chapter of American history.

The musical, he believes, is both timely and tardy all at once. “It’s a story that should have been told long ago,” Takei said. “In fact, I’m always taken aback when I meet people who I consider well-informed and well-read and when I tell them about my childhood imprisonment, they are aghast. They can’t believe that it actually happened. And so to be able to tell this story on a Broadway stage, and hopefully on a movie screen as well, is an enormous fulfillment of my life mission. I consider this production my legacy project.

A Broadway Musical Inspires a Broadway Musical
Takei credits Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ musical In The Heights, which he saw with his husband Brad in 2008. During the first act of the show, a father laments his inability to secure his family’s future—a sentiment Takei understood from watching his own father in the camp. At intermission, he explained his sudden tears to two new friends who happened to be sitting in the same row: Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. After the show, the four went out for drinks, and by the time the evening ended, Kuo pitched the idea of creating an original musical about the internment camps. The story of the fictional Kimura family could echo that of the Takeis, but with the freedom of a fictional plot line.

While Takei had always wanted to dramatize his experiences, it took Kuo to suggest musicalizing the story. “Music is more powerful,” Takei acknowledged. “And as a musical theater fan, I agreed with him.” Back on the West Coast, the Takeis maintained email contact with Kuo and Thione, and two weeks later, the first song was ready. “And there I was again, bawling away,” he remembered. That first number became the musical’s title song, and reflects the helplessness of the family’s father—similar in theme, as Takei notes, to the song “Inutil” from In The Heights. “The idea was born in a Broadway theater,” he said, “and it’s coming home.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of In the Heights Photo by Joan Marcus
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of In the Heights
Photo by Joan Marcus

Creating Allegiance
Using information and inspiration from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (which Takei helped found), the team continued to shape the musical, cutting and adding songs, scenes and even characters over the months and years. “What most people don’t know is that shows take years to get to Broadway,” Telly Leung, who plays the younger version of one of Takei’s characters in the show. “Our show took six or seven years.” Since the first reading in 2010, Leung believes about 15 percent of the show has been cut. “It’s a credit to the writers that they kept challenging themselves,” he said. “They didn’t hold anything so precious that they couldn’t come up with something better.”

Leung also credits the show’s director, Stafford Arima, with asking “all the right questions” throughout the musical’s development and helping everyone involved bring “their best work to the table.”

Learning from History; Making History
When it opens in November, Allegiance will speak to a wide range of communities: history buffs, veterans, Asians and Asian-Americans alike. But the show’s central focus, Leung said, is the bonds of patriotism and family. “The musical, deep in core, is about what it means to be an American,” he said. And much like the Japanese-Americans were forced to fill out “loyalty questionnaires” to prove their allegiance to the United States, Leung noted that other communities today are still being forced to defend their right to equality. “We learn from our mistakes,” he said quietly, noting that after the tragic events of 9/11, it could have been easy to repeat history and treat Muslim Americans in the same way Japanese Americans were treated in the 1940s. “But we had conversations!” he emphasized. “Look how far America has come!”

And now, at age 78, after years of following musical theater, George Takei is finally making his Broadway debut. When the show’s marquee went up at the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street, Takei was there with his costars and his family. “I fixated on the surname—Takei,” he said. “It was my father’s surname. And the story we tell is my father’s story. I felt a little poignance that my father wasn’t there to see this raising of the marquee; to see his name, his son’s name, going up on the theater. This is really my parents’ story.”


Tags: Allegiance, George Takei, In The Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda, WWII