George Takei Debuts On Broadway In 'Allegiance' Inspired by Takei's own childhood experiences, the musical spotlights a dark era in American history: The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
NPR logo

George Takei Debuts On Broadway In 'Allegiance'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/455337926/455367789" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
George Takei Debuts On Broadway In 'Allegiance'

George Takei Debuts On Broadway In 'Allegiance'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/455337926/455367789" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Actor George Takei has appeared at many stages over the years - on "Star Trek's" soundstage as Mr. Sulu...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")

PATRICK STEWART: (As Jean-Luc Picard) Ready to reverse polarity, Mr. Sulu?

GEORGE TAKEI: (As Sulu) Computed and standing by to generate, Sir.

MCEVERS: ...Later, on the social media stage, where George Takei emerged as a leading activist for gay and lesbian rights. And now, at the age of 78, George Takei is making his Broadway debut. It's a musical inspired by his childhood experience in Japanese-American internment camps during the second World War. "Allegiance" opened last night. NPR's Neda Ulaby met George Takei in his dressing room.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: It's surprisingly teeny - barely enough space for a few costumes, a teapot and a cast photo. Takei calls it a closet.

TAKEI: A large closet.

ULABY: The last place I expected to interview Mr. George Takei was in a closet.

TAKEI: (Laughter) I thought I came out of the closet in 2005.

ULABY: When Takei went public about his relationship of nearly 30 years with the man who's now his husband.

TAKEI: And we've been married for eight years now.

ULABY: Takei says he could not have imagined as a TV star in the 1960s his life in 2015. He says it's like science fiction.

TAKEI: Who would've thunk that we'd have marriage equality from border to border, and who would've thunk that we would've been dealing with a shameful chapter of American history on the Broadway stage as a musical?

ULABY: "Allegiance" is about the forced relocation and imprisonment of more than a hundred-thousand Japanese-American citizens. Takei was among them when he was only 5 years old. He talks about it on the cast album.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ALLEGIANCE")

TAKEI: (As Sam Kimura) In the spring of 1942, soldiers with bayonets marched up to our home in Los Angeles and ordered our family out. Our only crime was looking like the people who had bombed Pearl Harbor only months before.

ULABY: Takei clearly remembers his mother weeping inconsolably, how his neighbors watched in silence as the Takeis were taken from their home. The family lost everything they could not carry. They were imprisoned behind barbed wire for almost three years and told to renounce their loyalty to the emperor.

TAKEI: We're Americans, and for the government to assume that we have an organic, genetic, racial loyalty to the emperor was insulting. It was outrageous.

ULABY: The plot of "Allegiance" hinges in part on people's decisions and feelings about signing a loyalty pledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ALLEGIANCE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character, Singing) Now we aim to separate disloyals from the ranks. All you have to do to pass is hold your nose and answer yes.

ULABY: The music was composed by Jay Kuo, who's Chinese-American.

JAY KUO: And of course, my mother is always asking, how can you be writing about Japanese-American and not Chinese?

ULABY: Because, says Kuo, who's also a civil rights lawyer, the show "Allegiance" is all too relevant in a post-9/11 world where some ethnic groups and immigrants are often demonized just because of their ethnicity or their religion. And Kuo says the issue of Broadway representation is important. "Allegiance" was directed by an Asian-American and also stars the actress who became a Broadway sensation in the original "Miss Saigon." Lea Salonga plays the daughter of George Takei's character.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ALLEGIANCE")

TAKEI: (As Sam Kimura) Each day, we take another step. Remember what I teach you. (Speaking Japanese).

LEA SALONGA: (As Kei, singing in Japanese).

ULABY: The music also supports the sadness and political divisions within the camp community. One character expresses his Americanness by enlisting in the Army, another by protesting his lack of civil rights. Composer Jay Kuo says the show's creators did a ton of research, but they also relied on the memories of George Takei.

KUO: George's mother used to say to him when he was waiting the bathroom line out in the freezing cold - she would say, Georgie, gaman. And it means to endure with dignity.

ULABY: That word, gaman, became a foundational concept for the entire musical.

SALONGA: (As Kei, singing) Keep faith and endure. Gaman. Gaman. Hold your head high. Carry on. Gaman.

ULABY: Some Japanese-American families did not talk about their interment after the war, says George Takei. He did as a teenager with his father.

TAKEI: Sometimes those discussions got very heated. In one discussion, I said, Daddy, you led us like sheep to slaughter into the internment camp. And all of a sudden, he was silent. And I knew immediately I had hurt him. And then he looked at me and said, well, maybe you're right. And he got up and walked into his bedroom and closed the door. I felt terrible. I wounded him.

ULABY: George Takei says that conversation has haunted him.

TAKEI: I never apologized, and now I can't. So "Allegiance" is my apology to my father every night.

ULABY: And a reminder every night of a drama - a history - that every American shares. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.