Why I pledge ‘Allegiance’
I sincerely hope you haven’t grown tired of my stories about the Broadway-bound musical “Allegiance.” We have just begun our third week of rehearsal, and we are all mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. All that said, our hearts are full, knowing only too well the importance of telling this rarely told chapter of American history.
On this same floor (at New 42nd Street Studios), up until last Saturday, was another show preparing for its run in Los Angeles: “The Scottsboro Boys,” set in Alabama in 1931. The Scottsboro boys are nine teenage black boys, wrongly accused of rape by two white girls. The Tony-nominated musical—with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb (the same team behind “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” in their final collaboration), directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman—used the minstrel show and blackface (oh trust, the tools are used to great effect … I saw the musical during its short Broadway run, and mourned when its closing notice was posted) to tell this story. “The Scottsboro Boys” will run at the Ahmanson Theater from May 21 to June 30. For tickets and information, visit www.centertheatregroup.org.
And so this floor has been fondly dubbed The American History Floor. The two productions’ impact is not lost on anyone who has resided here in the last couple of weeks. Break-time laughter and ribbing aside (I know a few of Scottsboro’s cast members, and George Takei has socialized with Hal Linden, who plays the Interlocutor), there is a high degree of seriousness to our stories, and unwavering commitment by all involved in telling them.
So … why do I make it a point to tell people about this show, sing my big solo at every concert opportunity, and post on social media frequently so that my fans and friends are more aware of what’s to come?
Here’s a list of my own reasons:
I married into a Japanese-American family, which makes “Allegiance” far more relevant to me on a personal level. My daughter is a descendant, which makes it even more important that I am part of this show and the story it tells. Needless to say, I am extremely proud that I’ve been asked, and have been a part of each and every reading, workshop and production.
It’s not often (heck, I don’t think it’s ever happened) that an Asian-American composer/lyricist has had work performed on Broadway. The last one is probably Bobby Lopez, whose Tony-winning “Book of Mormon” (cowritten with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone) is still packing the audiences in. It’s probably the most difficult Broadway ticket to get.
My coworkers are amazing. I mean, not just as performers, but also as human beings. I get to work side by side with George Takei (who has blown up as a social media celebrity, with over four million followers on Facebook), Telly Leung and many other Asian-American actor-singer-dancers in this important piece (we do have three Caucasian actor friends, too). For this lab project, there are 19 of us navigating through this piece on stage, plus our production, dance and music departments, stage management and creative team. We use two rooms, and they are always occupied; for example, a number is being choreographed and staged in one room, while a meeting or music rehearsal is going on in another. Our days are incredibly busy. But we all do have a great deal of fun.
Right now on Broadway there aren’t a lot of historical pieces running. The other New York theatrical piece currently running that falls in this category is the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim rock musical “Here Lies Love,” based on the life of Imelda Marcos (portrayed by Ruthie Ann Miles), and the woman who raised her, Estrella Cumpas (played by Melody Butiu). Jose Llana plays Ferdinand Marcos, while Conrad Ricamora plays Ninoy Aquino. I haven’t yet seen it, but it’s definitely on my to-see list while I’m in New York (thank goodness it’s been extended to June 30). Directed by Alex Timbers, the show is running off-Broadway at the Public Theater. For more information, visit www.publictheater.org.
• Ultimately, “Allegiance” is a great piece of musical theater that needs to be seen. Its subject matter—the Japanese-American internment—is hardly ever taught in history classes, or written about in history books. George is passionate about this piece getting to Broadway, and ultimately, having this story told. It’s not just history, but his personal story.
Our lab project will be on May 20 (sorry, it’s not open to the public), the final step before a Broadway opening. I’ll be praying that all goes well for everyone.
To all our mommies, nanays, lolas, mamacitas, abuelitas and nanas, here’s a belated Mother’s Day wish.
I send this one especially to my own mother Ligaya, my sister-in-law DJ, and my many mommy and mommy-figure friends and family all over the world. I sure hope you were treated with flowers, and a day off from all responsibility.
Speaking of which, my daughter Nicole and I appear on the cover of the Mother’s Day issue of “Working Mom” magazine.
It’s available on newsstands now.