George Takei, right, stars in the Los Angeles premiere of Allegiance (Michael Lamont).
The traumatic story of America’s World War II concentration camps arguably seemed a far more distant and settled history in November 2015, when Allegiance premiered on Broadway. The musical retelling by composer-lyricist Jay Kuo (with a book by Kuo, Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione) of what is euphemistically called the “Japanese-American internment” opened to indifferent reviews and then closed after three months.
But with the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the administration’s divisive mainstreaming of alt-right white supremacist hate groups, Allegiance’s sprawling and sometimes unwieldy tale of how the United States summarily stripped 120,000 Japanese-Americans — including 37,000 Angelenos — of their civil rights and incarcerated them in 10 prison camps for the duration of the war today seems harrowingly near. And if Trump isn’t exactly on the Aratani Theatre stage, it’s hard not to watch this sparkling new production by East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center with a newfound sense of foreboding and urgency. What is surprising is the degree of warmth and optimism that a top-flight ensemble, including veterans of the Broadway run, brings to it.