A musical in the works draws on actor George Takei's experiences in an internment camp
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 01:48 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
George Takei will never forget the day in 1942 when U.S. soldiers came to take his family to an internment camp.
In the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, people of Japanese descent -- resident aliens and American citizens alike -- were being relocated from the West Coast for security reasons. The government allowed them to take only what they could carry in a suitcase. As for everything else -- furniture, cars, homes, businesses, farms -- they had to dispose of it for whatever price they could get.
Takei was 5 years old when his family was sent to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, and later Tule Lake, Calif.
MAKE CONTACTFor information on "Allegiance," contact producer Lorenzo Thione at email@example.com.
SPEAKING UPGeorge Takei is keynote speaker at the free public discussion:
» What: "No Shame! Talking about the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Japanese American Experience in Hawaii"
» When: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2454 S. Beretania St.
» Call: 945-7633
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jcch.com
"We'd packed the night before, but I remember tears streaming down my mother's cheek as we walked out (of our home). The only things we could take with us was what we could carry."
His family lost everything his parents and grandparents had struggled to build: his father's cleaning business, his uncle's farm, the family car and everything else they couldn't bring with them to the camp.
"Internment was very divisive on the part of the government. It broke up families, it broke up marriages and it divided the community," said Takei, 73. "It was a very destructive act -- and on innocent people. Simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, we were summarily rounded up."
For years after he achieved international stardom as Sulu on the original "Star Trek" series (1966-69), Takei wanted to do a movie or television miniseries about the internment. Now, almost 70 years after the soldiers came for his family, that dream is moving forward thanks to a chance meeting with theatrical producer Lorenzo Thione.
The two are working on a musical stage production titled "Allegiance" that stars Takei as embittered internee Sam Omura, a veteran of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Tony-winning actress and singer Lea Salonga also is involved in the project in the role of Gloria Suzuki, with Telly Leung playing Omura in the flashbacks that compose most of the story.
Takei first met Thione and composer/lyricist Jay Kuo in a New York theater two years ago. After that casual encounter, they happened to meet again at another theater the following night. During that performance, a song in the show reminded Takei of his father's experiences in the camp and brought him to tears. Thione and Kuo noticed and inquired politely at intermission.
"George shared with us the importance and the personal tragedy of the years he spent as a young boy (in the camp)," Thione said.
Takei also told Thione and Kuo about his plans to write a teleplay based on several chapters in his 1994 autobiography, "To the Stars." Kuo suggested the story be told as a musical and began work on the score.
THIS WEEK, Takei, Salonga, Thione, Leung and Kuo are in Honolulu for a private "producers audition" of the show to attract financial backers.
Thione describes the musical as "the epic story of one family -- their love and their losses and their struggles in a really difficult time. ... It gives insight into the human condition through a beautiful story that people can empathize with no matter what their background."
Takei said the human tragedy of the mass internment is "organic" to the story, but that "Allegiance" is also "a love story, a love of family and how a family was broken up and eventually how the family gets together again," similar in scope and general appeal of the milestone television miniseries "Roots" and "Holocaust."
Salonga, known to theater fans worldwide for her performance as Kim in "Miss Saigon," is enjoying the opportunity to play a different type of Asian woman.
"She's not like any of the Asian characters I've ever played," Salonga said in a phone call from New York.
"She's very westernized and she's got very Western ideas, but she also still keeps her Eastern and Japanese values of family and resilience and being able to go on despite all the hardships. It's a wonderful character."
The story also interested Salonga because her husband's Japanese-American relatives escaped internment by moving to Colorado, where Japanese residents were not subject to mandatory confinement, even though one of the camps was located there.
Salonga became part of the project last year and participated in the first public presentation of the draft script at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Thione, Kuo and the cast have since presented it as a developmental reading in New York and in producers auditions in other parts of the country.
Thione is in talks with regional theaters, where fully staged performances will be presented in 2011.
From there he plans to open on Broadway in 2012, in time to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the internment order.
"That, I think, is an opportunity for starting what will be a really great national dialogue on the importance of remembering and the importance of knowing and learning and understanding how it happened and making sure that it doesn't happen again."