Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Shameful event in history inspires musical, 'Allegiance'


Japanese Americans wait for a train headed for a relocation camp. (Scott Lasky photo)

Presented by Palo Alto Players, “Allegiance” is a musical based on one of the most shameful events in American history: the relocation of people of Japanese descent during World War II.

With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione, it was inspired by the childhood experiences of actor George Takei (Lt.  Sulu on “Star Trek”).

It focuses on a Salinas farm family, the Kimuras, who have only a few days to sell the farm and assemble for transport to the bleak Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

The family includes Sammy (Jomar Martinez) and his older sister, Kei (Marah Sotelo), along with their father, Tatsuo (Bryan Pangilinan), and grandfather, Kaito (Ron Munekawa).

Sammy wants to enlist in the military to prove his patriotism, but is rejected. Later he meets the camp nurse, Hannah Campbell (Corinna Laskin), and falls in love with her.

In the meantime, Kei and Frankie Suzuki (Christopher J. Sotelo) have fallen in love, too.

After Japanese men are allowed to enlist in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Sammy signs up and serves with distinction, but Frankie resists the subsequent draft with Kei’s support. Sammy bitterly rejects them both.

Other characters, both good and not-so-good, are involved.

The show opens and closes in 2001 when Sammy (played by Munekawa as an older man) attends Kei’s funeral and finds he has a chance to forgive and to forge new family ties.

Thoughtfully directed by Vinh G. Nguyen, the mostly Asian, 20-member ensemble cast is excellent with standout performances by Martinez as Sammy, Laskin as Hannah, Marah Sotelo as Kei and Christopher J. Sotelo as Frankie. (The Sotelos are husband and wife.)

At the keyboard, music director Benjamin Belew oversees the talented singers and the six-person orchestra.

Nicole Tung has choreographed the lively dancing, including the jitterbug at a camp dance.

The minimal but effective set is by Skip Epperson with lighting by Edward Hunter.  Sometimes the lyrics are hard to discern in the sound design by Brandie Larkin.

The costumes, hair and makeup are by Y. Sharon Peng.

Running about two hours and 40 minutes with intermission, “Allegiance” is interesting and entertaining despite some slow spots. In some ways, it might work better as a drama rather than a musical, but some songs allow characters to express their inner thoughts.

It will continue through May 8 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Recorded performances will be available for streaming-on-demand May 5 to 8.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.