February 06, 2015
NEW YORK — George Takei is next boldly going somewhere special — to Broadway.
The "Star Trek" star's personal and heartfelt show about Japanese-Americans imprisoned during World War II has found a spot on the Great White Way this fall with him in a starring role.
"It is absolutely thrilling," Takei, who helped turn his childhood memories in an internment camp into the new musical "Allegiance," told The Associated Press. "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 on Oct. 6 at a Shubert Theatre still to be announced.
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 play "Chinglish," with a predominantly Asian cast, played 109 total 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 that not everyone knows.
"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 said.
The show had a sold-out premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego, starring Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung. So far, only Takei has signed on for the Broadway run but he said "we are working to recreate that." The producers are Thione and Andrew Treagus.
Takei was 5 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 bones and got us back on our feet," Takei said. 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," said Takei, who would earn fame as Sulu aboard the USS Enterprise. "It's a very, very personal project."
Takei said he believed 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 said and that's something "everyone can identify with."
Finding a Broadway berth has taken years, partly due to the complicated logistics of traditional theater booking and partly because the subject is a mostly unknown chapter of American history.
"All the Broadway theaters had been booked up and there was a long line of productions waiting for the next vacancy. So we just had to get in line and vamp our time," he said. "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, grass roots 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 theatergoers to reserve a seat for the show before it had gotten a theater.