Aging artists often think about their legacy projects, the stuff they want to leave the world before they leave it. Sometimes this involves restoring original works, like how Jimmy Page keeps re-releasing Led Zeppelin records. Other times it involves creating important new work that makes a statement. Allegience, the new musical spearheaded by George Takei, is a perfect example.
Allegience came about when Takei and his partner bumped into another gay couple at a musical. They talked about George's youth, when as a kid his family was forced into a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. In hindsight, the idea of taking American-born citizens of Japanese origin and shoving them into camps seems absolutely barbarian, but at the time, the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbour and everyone was very testy. It ruined lives, but that war ruined a lot of lives in many ways. Still, Takei started to think about current events, how Trump the arsehole keeps railing on about Mexicans and Muslims, and how anyone can be denounced and imprisoned at any time. Allegience was designed to make a powerful statement.
Unfortunately, it was not a hit. Though it started out strong, breaking records at the theatre where it was workshopped and premiered, it closed on Broadway after 111 performances and was completely ignored by those Tony Award snobs. (Even Lea Salonga, a previous winner for Miss Saigon, was rebuffed.) But Takei was undeterred. Just before it closed, they filmed a complete performance, augmented it with judicious close-ups and cut-ins, and have now released it as a movie. It's not quite a regular movie, it's a filmed play, but it still packs a punch.
The story concerns a family forced into a shitty camp far from their home. Grandpa dies, dad remains stubborn, the sister is in constant turmoil, and the son, after falling in love with a white girl, finally enlists and becomes a war hero. It's often sentimental and typically Broadway, but I did wipe away a tear at the end.
Takei, best known as Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series, has in the past few years become one of the most famous gay men on earth. His rich baritone and his candor have made him a welcome guest on talk shows. Allegience isn't just his legacy project - he invested a great deal of his own money into it - it is also a very nice piece of work. I like to think a work of art can change the world, but dictators don't usually go to musicals. Let's hope there are no more internment camps in our future. We're still dealing with those in the past.