Growing up as the granddaughter of Auschwitz victims, World War II was part of my identity. The narrative was extremely clear: there were the Allies (good), the Axis (evil), and the Jews (suffering) and that was the entire story. World War II was my story and I knew it well.
The Broadway musical “Allegiance” is not that story, but it is a story with which the Jewish community can easily identify. While it is often footnoted in history, the facts are unsettling and true.
In 1941, the United States interned 110,000 innocent citizens for the crime of being Japanese-American. They were forced out of their homes at gunpoint, their belongings left behind and sent to relocation centers. Many had loved ones back in Japan, torn between love of identity and love of their new homes. Young men were drafted, forced to prove their loyalty with their own lives. Others rioted, refusing to accept second treatment and are willing to suffer violence and prison.
The story of the Japanese Americans speaks to today’s Jewish community. Questions of dual loyalty and public face are a constant topic in our community. We have our own struggles of Jewish public figures having to toe the line between serving the government and remaining part of the Jewish community.
Most importantly, “Allegiance” needs to broaden our views of the world. In one epic scene, the bombing of Hiroshima is shown through the eyes of the Japanese Americans. It was a chilling moment for me. As much as I am always glad to see the Axis lose, it was the first time I saw the Japanese people in the story as anything more than villains.
Without making it political, “Allegiance” makes me wonder how many wars could be averted if people could see the humanity of those on the other side. In a world on the brink of war, it’s good to be reminded that there is humanity to be found across the battle lines.
Not only is it poignant and timely, “Allegiance” is entertaining. While the score and lyrics are rather ordinary, the show’s actors make the play a feast for the eyes and ears.
George Takei is masterful in his double role as Grandfather and Older Sam, who narrates the story. Although in his seventies, Takei is an extraordinary actor who created two separate characters on the stage. Lea Salonga’s triple threat is on display, as she sings, dances and emotes with the star power her name brings to the role of Sam’s motherly sister Kei. The unsung hero of the musical is Michael K. Lee, who steals the show with his portrayal of Frankie, a cynical yet generous young revolutionary. Beautiful costumes, incredible dancing and creative staging suck the audience in and don’t let go until well after the curtain falls.
The greatness of theatre is not only that it entertains, but that it educates and enlightens. The last few weeks of violence in Israel have left me very bitter and angry at the world. “Allegiance” was made to be a legacy project of George Takei. A prisoner himself of Tule Lake War Relocation Center, Takei wanted to make sure that this part of history was never forgotten.
This is a legacy that should become part of the Holocaust narrative taught by the Jewish community. While I doubt anyone would compare Auschwitz to Tule Lake War Relocation Center, this story is an excellent reminder that even the “good” side in a war can do some terrible things as well. The Jewish community would do well to ask that this story be included in all Holocaust memorials, as a reminder that being good is a constant effort and not just an overall result.
As minorities who have struggled for civil rights, our voices are stronger together.