WWII internment camp musical ‘accomplished a great deal,’ Takei says



“Allegiance,” a Broadway musical set against the historical internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, will close its doors on Feb. 14, but star George Takei expressed pride in the show’s achievements and its role in preserving an important but marginalized episode from U.S. history.

“We were expecting a much longer run, of course, but we have accomplished a great deal in the five months that we’ve been playing on Broadway,” Takei said Monday.

“This is the first time in American theater history that the story of the internment of Japanese-Americans is being told on the Broadway stage,” he said, adding his praise for the largely Asian and Asian- American cast and pride in having drawn much higher turnout among Asian audiences than the Broadway average.

The musical, which opened for previews on Oct. 6 at Longacre Theatre, centers on the fictional Kimura family as it suffers a rift under the strain of wartime incarceration at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming. Takei, 78, won over U.S. critics with his Broadway debut in the dual roles of Ojii-chan and an aged Sammy Kimura, though the musical’s overall presentation met with mixed reviews.

Takei was among the roughly 120,000 civilians of Japanese ancestry forced into prison camps in 10 remote locations across seven U.S. states from 1942-45 under the assumption they posed a threat to U.S. national security during the war with Japan.

The Los Angeles native was five years old when his family was forcibly removed first to Rohwer Camp in Arkansas and later to the Tule Lake center in California over a term of nearly four years.

“We learn more from those chapters of American history where our democracy faltered than from the glorious chapters we are exposed to all the time,” Takei said.

“It’s so vitally important that we know our history. But as the generation that experienced (internment) dies off, as those that didn’t experience it don’t share it with their descendants, and it’s not in the history books, then it will fade away,” he said. “As individuals and organizations, we need to try to prevent that from happening.”

Aside from dramatizing the history of internment for theatergoers, Takei has worked for decades to raise awareness through speaking engagements and in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, whose initiatives include helping teachers bring lessons on internment to U.S. classrooms.

The actor, most famous for playing Hikaru Sulu on the original “Star Trek” TV series and movies, continues to speak out against xenophobia in U.S. politics in his many media appearances and to his online following of over 9 million Facebook users and approximately 1.75 million followers on Twitter.

He has been among the many notable voices opposing Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. amid terrorism concerns, and in an online post from November accused Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Virginia of having “failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons” when the mayor implied that World War II-era Japanese-American internment had been a justified measure.

The actor said that Roanoke officials have since offered him a speaking engagement in the city, which he has accepted. However, neither Trump nor Bowers has taken Takei up on his standing invitations to see “Allegiance.”

After the musical finishes its run on Broadway, possibilities remain open for it to go on the road with a U.S. touring company or adapt in other ways to reach new audiences.

“We have a fantastic record to be very proud of, and we want to continue that record,” Takei said. “We are exploring a lot of future options for ‘Allegiance.’ ”

Takei appeared at Japan Society in conversation with Kermit Roosevelt, a descendant of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and author of the 2015 novel “Allegiance,” not connected with the musical, in which a World War II-era law clerk confronts the unconstitutionality of Japanese-American internment in the wartime camps.