It’s hard not to at least try to root for Allegiance, the awfully bad but well-intentioned musical that is currently limping through its East Coast regional premiere at SpeakEasy Stage.
The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2015 after a 2012 world premiere in San Diego, received mixed reviews and shuttered after only three months of regular performances. It also failed to be nominated for a single Tony Award, if you’re the kind of person that uses awards as a barometer of quality.
In short, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that Allegiance is—and it does pain me to say it—a terrible musical.
The draw of Allegiance was George Takei, who starred in the original production and whose childhood memories in an internment camp are the true story that is said to have inspired the musical.
The inherent flaws of the musical aside, SpeakEasy’s production, directed by Paul Daigneault, doesn’t do the material any favors. Marred by unconvincing performances and devoid of any type of finesse usually found in a professional production, this Allegiance is as unconvincing as it gets.
While the general framework is grounded in history and in turn feels frequently like a history lesson, the story surrounding the family at its core—and all of its several subplots—is as melodramatic as a soap opera and as emotionally manipulative as a Lifetime movie. The tearful epilogue, which seemed to elicit instant tears from those around me, had me rolling my eyes so hard that for a moment, one of my contacts got stuck somewhere in the far recesses of my eye socket.
The cliche-ridden and dramatically challenged book, by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione (Did it really take three people to come up with this?), is an ideal fit for the forgettable score, also by Jay Kuo. (One of the lyrical gems? “It will be all right, there’s a way through this night.”) I will say that the small orchestra sounds great, but with Matthew Stern in charge, that isn’t a surprise.
I suppose that Paul Daigneault did what he could with the staging, but I am shocked by how amateur the performances are. Sam Tanabe, who appeared in Allegiance on Broadway, has a paper-thin voice and struggles with the basic demands of the role. The ensemble, in general, leaves much to be desired.
Faring best are Melissa Geerlof as the white nurse who pays the ultimate price for her feelings for Sammy (Tanabe), and Michael Hisamoto—one of my favorite local actors—who plays the national secretary of the Japanese American Citizens League who successfully lobbied the government to allow Japanese-Americans to enlist. The ever-charming Tyler Simahk is as reliable as he always is, and Grace Yoo is just lovely as Kei, Sammy’s sister. Gary Thomas Ng, in two roles, brings a sweetness and some much-needed heart to the proceedings.
Well intentioned as it may be, this is an Allegiance better left unpledged.
ALLEGIANCE. THROUGH 6.2 AT SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. SPEAKEASYSTAGE.COM