Review: Allegiance

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To quote another Star Trek luminary, Allegiance is utterly “fascinating.” It’s also far more engaging and even entertaining than I expected – this is after all, a musical about Japanese-Americans being interred in camps during World War II. George Takei, known equally for being Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek and being something of a social media Oscar Wilde, was himself interred in these camps as a child. He inspired the creative team of Allegiance, and also stars in a dual role.

Takei is terrific as both Sam Kimura – a man looking back on his years both in the camp, and eventually as a soldier in the war – and Ojii-chan, Sam’s doting grandfather. He spends more time playing Ojii-chan, which works well; that character is much closer to Takei’s own optimism and quick good humor.

Telly Leung plays the young Sam as an All-American Japanese boy, and is suitability driven, dashing and golden-voiced. Lea Salonga is in equally dazzling voice as Sammy’s more traditionally-inclined sister Kei.

The core of composer Jay Kuo’s score is in the style of pop operas like Les Mis or Phantom, but I like it more than those because it’s size and earnestness is totally earned. The creative team’s commitment shines through, and it helps the show’s integrity that many people involved have a sincere emotional connection to Takei’s – and, by extension, Sam’s – story.

Kuo actually incorporates an admirable amount of variety around that core, using the traditional Japanese melody “Sakura” as a counter-melody at one point, and diving headlong into boogie woogie at another. The book, which Kuo co-authored with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione, deals with enormous issues, skillfully using the prism of one family’s trials to tell the story of a community of 120,000 in crisis. Allegiance succeeds because of its heartfelt earnestness, not in spite of it, and is intelligent, well-structured and moving to boot. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: La Bohème

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Director Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème, is, to me, the very height of traditional opera. He captures both the details and spirit of 1830s Paris, the exact time in which the opera is set. There’s a gesture in the direction of realism – we see real places from unusual and oblique angles. But there’s also a nod in the direction of Romanticism – these places are rendered with a misty painterly touch. Gorgeous.

And I’m not just talking about the scenery either. Amidst a realistic crowd scene showing the bustle of Paris, a soprano begins a beautiful aria, and suddenly all of the hurrying crowd stops moving. Zeffirelli is a master of stage effect and his use of it here is every bit as artful and painterly as the haze of falling snow.

Ramón Vargas’s Rodolfo was strong and solid, confident throughout his range, conveying more than anything his character’s warm compassionate core. Barbara Frittoli’s Mimi was affecting as well, even if vocally she seemed insufficiently warmed-up in the first act.

Ana María Martinez gave us a Musetta that was all sparkle and heat, both visually and vocally. The supporting cast were notable above all for their acting skill; Levente Molnár was a expansive and charming Marcello, Christian Van Horn a dryly amused and amusing Colline, and Alexy Lavrov a cheerful and soulful Schaunard. Paolo Carignani conducted with great zest and brio, creating a seamless bond between singers and orchestra.

The late, great Zeffirelli has created a very seductive world where I was happy to spend three hours. The production in general, and the performances of this cast in particular, are thoroughly entrancing. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.