Broadway on Film: Allegiance (2016) starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, & Telly Leung

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Kei, Grandpa, & Sammy arrive at the Heart Mountain internment camp 
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -George Santayana (1905), philosopher/writer
Allegiance ran on Broadway for 3 mos. during the Winter of 2015/2016, and was seen by 120,000 (which was the same number of Japanese-Americans rounded up and put in internment camps during WWII). The story is partly based on George Takei’s real life experience as a young child raised for 4 yrs in an Arkansas internment camp. Each night of its Broadway run, the veteran actor/activist/social media star, reserved a seat for (then presidential candidate) Donald Trump. Of course, Trump NEVER came to see the show! 
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The Kimura family at the dinner table.
This musical drama centers on the Kimuras, who are a close-knit farming family, yet individuals in their own right (who grow and change over the course of the play). They are sent to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, which is the main setting of this story. There are armed men guarding them 24/7, a curfew is in effect at night, and the living conditions are VERY poor.   
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Sammy encourages the young people to think of ways to have fun in “Get in the Game.”
Sammy (Telly Leung, who has been chosen as the lead in Alladin) desperately wants to enlist in the army and show his allegiance to the U.S. His father says that this can never be, since they “have the face of the enemy.” BOTH men are quite stubborn! Sammy’s older sister, Kei (short for Keiko), serves as a mother-figure for him also. Kei (Lea Salonga, veteran actor/singer best known as Eponine in the original Les Mis) worries about Sammy’s future and takes care of Grandpa (Takei), who is missing his garden back home. 
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Grandpa creates an origami flower from the offensive loyalty questionnaire.
…after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me like an American! -Michael K. Lee
Kei (though she considers herself an “old maid”) forms a connection w/ Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), a law student from LA.  Since he’s a bachelor, Frankie has to share a cabin w/ 10 other men. His dark humor and sly wit are revealed in the rousing big band number Paradise. Frankie’s allegiance is to the Constitution; this character is based on (real life) activist Frank Emi.  I was quite impressed w/ this character; he seemed VERY fresh and modern!
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Sammy and Hannah joke and about their budding (forbidden) relationship.
Sammy and Hannah (a blonde, young Army nurse from Nebraska) become close while trying to get more medicine and supplies for the camp. They have a sweet duet (With You) which expresses their love, which is NOT safe to express.  The lyrics are simple, yet poignant; below is a sample. 
If I were with you, no one else could see us this way. -Sammy imagines
If I were with you, we would fight the world every day. -Hannah replies
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Sammy (center) with some of the men of the 442nd Combat Regiment
What can be done to end this imprisonment? Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe) of the Japanese Americans Citizens League (JACL) has been petitioning Congress to get his people freed. Perhaps in desperation, he proposes a loyalty test (“to root out the troublemakers”). Also, the able-bodied men MUST enlist (in a segregated unit, like the African-Americans) and take on the deadliest missions. (Masaoka was an actual person during this period in history.) Watanabe had older relatives in internment camps, as he noted in one of the behind-the-scenes interviews. I wanted to know MORE about this character!
Women weren’t just sitting around while the men faced danger. Kei and the camp’s women write letters to major newspapers and magazines to let the public know what’s going on. Kei goes after what she wants and becomes a stronger woman, as we see in Higher- a pivotal song for her character and showcasing Salonga’s powerful vocals.
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A banner ad featuring Sammy, Hannah, and a quote from the Washington Post review
In SOME ways, this play is quite traditional for Broadway- love stories, generational conflicts, song and dance. In other ways, it is groundbreaking- a cast of mainly Asian-Americans (incl. those of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean ancestry); a Japanese-Canadian director (who had relatives in similar camps in Canada); a Chinese-American co-writer; a female orchestra leader, etc. In this current political climate, this story is a cautionary tale, NOT merely entertainment. Should we prove our worth by standing by our country, no matter what (like Sammy)? Or should we resist the unfair laws being proposed, even risking prison (like Frankie)? 
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Movies & Plays To Check Out (JAN 2017)

MOVIES:

Hidden Figures

This movie centers on three brilliant African-American women (referred to as “human computers”) working at NASA in the 1960s. The three leads are Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae (who is also a singer). They are joined by Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Kristen Dunst, and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards; Luke Cage). Before Col. John Glenn (up-and-coming actor Glen Powell) went into space, Henson’s character (Katharine Johnson) had to “check the math” behind the mission. I learned that Johnson is still alive in small-town Virginia- wow!  Check out the trailer below.

 

Lion

Critics have raved re: Dev Patel in this film, as well as the boy who plays Indian adoptee to Australia (Saroo Brierley) as a child.  In case you’re NOT a big fan yet of the British-Indian actor, know that Patel is transformed for this role (hair, body, and accent).  I’ll be seeing it next weekend.

See the trailer below; the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, and David Wenham.

 

Singin’ in the Rain (in select theaters: SUN, 1/15 & WED, 1/18)

TCM and Fathom Events is co-presenting this musical at select theaters for two days ONLY. This movie premiered 65 years ago (1952) and stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds (who recently passed away at age 84), and Donald O’Conner. I heard about it on TCM, then checked online for details (see link below).

http://fathomevents.com/event/singin-in-the-rain/more-info/details

One of the most famed/respected dancers/choreographers of her time, Cyd Charisse, has a supporting role. Checking IMDB, I found that Rita Moreno is part of the ensemble (VERY cool). I’ve never seen this film before, but it’s available on YouTube for ONLY $2.99! 

 

The Salesman (AFI Silver Theatre: SUN, 1/22 at 5:15PM)

This film is part of the 21st Annual Iranian American Film Festival which was previously held at the Freer Gallery (now undergoing renovations).  It is directed by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), who is NOT afraid to realistically tackle subjects which are still taboo in his native Iran. While A Separation was about impending divorce, this film deals w/ the assault of a young wife and her husband’s subsequent emotional turmoil and drive for revenge. I got my ticket already.

Follow the link below for tickets and see the trailer.

https://silver.afi.com/Browsing/Movies/Details/m-0100001136

 

PLAYS:

As You Like It: Folger Shakespeare Theatre (Pay-What-You-Will: TUES, 1/24 at 7:30PM)

This adaptation of The Bard’s comedy will run from JAN 24th – MAR 5th starring actors from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I’m interested in this b/c I’ve only seen one movie re: this play. I haven’t read the play (it’s rarely taught/studied in schools/universities). 

See the link below for more info.

http://www.folger.edu/events/as-you-like-it

Caroline, or Change: Round House Theatre (UPDATED: Pay-What-You-Can on THURS, 1/26 at 7:30PM & WED, 2/1 at 7:30PM)

This is a musical written (book and lyrics) by the renowned Tony Kushner; it contains aspects from his own life as a boy growing up in the South. The play centers on Caroline, an African-America maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. It combines different types of music: spirituals (gospel), blues, Motown, classical, and Jewish klezmer and folk. 

More details at the link below.

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/caroline-or-change

Dangal (2016) starring Aamir Khan

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

Indian superstar Aamir Khan is known as a perfectionist, even when it comes to posters.  When I lived in NYC, I used to regularly attend monthly meetings of SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Creative Collective); though I wasn’t an artist (like most of the women), I wanted to meet interesting desis.  One night, we had a presentation by the young lady who’d worked as the main graphic artist on Lagaan (before moving to the U.S.)  She was working late in her Mumbai studio, when Aamir Khan called her up re: a small change to one of the poster designs.  Wow, talk about attention to detail!

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Young Mahavir (Aamir Khan) gets ready for a wrestling match.

This film will definitely hold the viewers’ attention, even more so than Lagaan, thanks in part to its exciting/tense action sequences.  But this isn’t a historical epic, it’s a (real-life) family story, which MAY be even more compelling to some of you who regularly read this blog.  I didn’t know anything about the story before going to see it last week, aside from the fact that Aamir had gained and lost a LOT of weight for his role.  I later learned that three out of the four (VERY natural) young actresses in the film hadn’t acted before!  I esp. liked the chemistry between the two girls who played the sisters as pre-teens, as well as the charm of their older teen boy cousin. 

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Life is sink or swim- a lesson that Mahavir wants his daughters to learn.

Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a former national wrestling champion, wins medals and respect in the ’80s.  Unfortunately, he never gets the opportunity to prove himself on the world stage; there is NOT enough money/resources dedicated to his sport.  He loves wresting, so he spends time training other men in the mud pits of his village.  After a time, Mahavir settles into married life (w/ his wife Daya, played by Shakshi Tanwar) and a desk job in his home region of Hariyana.  He has high hopes for a son, whom he plans to teach to be an even better wrestler than himself, and win gold for India. 

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Young Geeta is cheered by surprised locals after winning matches.

His wife gives birth to four daughters though the years.  Mahavir’s family and his small community is disappointed, thinking that the dream for wrestling glory is dead.  But after his two eldest girls, Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnager), beat up two local boys who insulted them, Mahavir is spurred into action.  His daughters will become wrestlers under his coaching!  Gold is still gold, Mahavir is bold enough to think, and who’s to say that a girl can’t win one!?  Watch the trailer below.