Star Trek's Mr Sulu hits Broadway with Allegiance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 11:14pm


George Takei is next boldly going somewhere special - to Broadway.

The Star Trek star's personal and heartfelt show about Japanese-Americans imprisoned during the second world war has found a spot on the Great White Way in autumn with him in a starring role.

"It is absolutely thrilling," says Takei, who helped turn his childhood memories in an internment camp into the new musical Allegiance. "I consider this production my legacy project."

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 Wyoming camp. Previews are set to begin in October.

It will mark the first Asian-led cast of a musical on Broadway in more than a decade, since Flower Drum Song. David Henry Hwang's Chinglish, with a mainly Asian cast, played 109 performances in 2011-12.

Allegiance features music and lyrics by Jay Kuo - which blends big band sounds with Japanese folk melodies and brassy Broadway numbers - and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione.

It is being directed by Stafford Arima, who directed Carrie and Altar Boyz off-Broadway and whose own father was interned in Canada during the war, a dark chapter in American history.

"I'm always shocked by the number of people I consider to be well informed who, when I tell them about my childhood and growing up behind barbed-wire fences, they are aghast and shocked. They'd never heard of it," Takei says.

The show had a sold-out premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego, starring Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung.

I owe so much to my parents, and, in many ways, this production is my tribute to them.
George Takei

Trade magazine Variety said in a review that "while the personal material lands, the political stuff lacks nuance and weight. Despite a handsome production and talent to spare, the writing would need considerable toughening up to withstand Broadway's harsh glare." It did single out Takei, who plays the grandfather, saying he "brings humour without overdone twinkle, gravitas without overstated sagacity. All he lacks is a talk-sung number to round out his character and, perhaps, firm up some of the show's current thematic shakiness".

So far, only Takei has signed on for the Broadway run, but he says "we are working to recreate that". The producers are Thione and Andrew Treagus.

Takei was five years old when soldiers marched onto his front porch with bayonets in May 1942 and ordered his entire family to leave their Los Angeles home. His school days began with him reciting "The Pledge of Allegiance", but he could see the barbed wire and sentry towers through his school room window.

It would be nearly four years until the family was able to return to Los Angeles, penniless and forced to start over on Skid Row. His parents "worked their fingers to the bone and got us back on our feet", Takei says. They went on to buy a three-bedroom house and send all three of their children to good universities.

"I owe so much to my parents, and, in many ways, this production is my tribute to them. It's a kind of lifetime of gratitude coming to fruition," says Takei, who would earn fame as Sulu aboard the USS Enterprise. "It's a very, very personal project."

Takei says he believes his musical will be the first Broadway show to investigate the internment of Japanese-Americans and pointed to other great musicals that tackle tough moments in history, including Les Miserables and Cabaret. At the heart of Allegiance is the importance of family, he says, and that's something "everyone can identify with".

Finding a Broadway berth has taken years, partly due to the complicated logistics of traditional theatre booking and partly because the subject is a mostly unknown chapter of American history.

"All the Broadway theatres had been booked up … So we just had to get in line and vamp our time," he says.

"It is very, very frustrating and anxiety-ridden. We're absolutely thrilled that we're at this point now - 2015 is going to be the year of Allegiance."

A bottom-up, grassroots effort to land it a home in New York has included leveraging fans of Takei - a wry social media magnet known for his catchphrase "Oh, my!" - as well as a Facebook campaign with more than 530,000 likes, and an unprecedented offer for theatre-goers to reserve a seat for the show before it managed to book a theatre.

Agence France-Presse