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

Allegiance_arrival_camp.jpg
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! 
allegiance_nyt
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.   
Allegiance_GetintheGame.jpg
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. 
allegiance_paperflower
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!
allegiance_sammy_hannah
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
allegiance_soldiers
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.
allegiance_wapo_review
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)? 
Advertisements

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS. 

rogue-one-trailer-jyn-cassian
Hardened Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and newbie Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)

We know there are a set of Star Wars superfans who simply CANNOT take criticism of their beloved franchise.  However, I’m NOT one of those viewers!  This prequel has a female lead in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as we saw in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Jones does the best she can w/ the material given.  There is a LOT of racial diversity among Jones’ male co-starts.  However, this film sorely lacks character development!  Sorry, BUT it’s rather tough to care about characters if we don’t get to know their much re: personalities, motivations, histories, etc. 

rogue-one-death-star.jpg
The Death Star was built by a team of engineers headed by Galen Erso (Jyn’s father)

I wanted to see a BIT more of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his wife; we don’t how/why they got on the wrong track of working for The Empire.  Also, why does Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) have such a big chip on this shoulder?  I wanted to know a LOT more re: his past, aside from the (obvious) fact that he’s been fighting for a long time.  It was cool to see Luna after MANY years!  He still has that youthful face and slim body.  There is a new droid working w/ Andor, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who provides some snarky humor.        

null
Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed)- the pilot who defects from The Empire

Social media (as well as a FEW people I personally know) were esp. excited to see Riz Ahmed, a British-Pakistani/Muslim actor on the big screen.  Sure, he’s part of the rag-tag Rebel band, BUT doesn’t get to do much!  Donnie Yen’s character (the blind/deeply spiritual warrior) was  more effective, thanks in part to his badass martial arts skills.  Guess we STILL have to wait for a desi brother to get a (bigger) break…

rogue-one-krennic
Orson Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn) oversaw the building of The Death Star

The new baddie, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), is pretty interesting; I think it’s b/c the Aussie actor takes relish in being a villain (check him out on Season 1 of the Netflix drama Bloodline).  I esp. liked the scene where he got called to meet w/ Darth Vader, then got (painfully) put in his place.

rogue-one-star-wars-vader
Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) meets with Krennic

I was impressed by the scenery, action sequences, and the “bringing back to life” of several actors from George Lucas’ original Star Wars films (thanks to technology).  Speaking of the original films… This film’s last scene (featuring the young Princess Leia) has taken on a special/poignant significance following the sudden death of actress Carrie Fisher.     

Mercy Street: Season 1 (PBS)

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers for the PBS original series.

mercyst_poster

This is a 6-part (1 hour long) historical drama series set during the American Civil War.  It’s shot on location in Richmond, VA w/ actors who are stage veterans, newcomers, and local extras.  You may have guessed that Richmond stands in for Alexandria, which was occupied by the Union Army at the tail end of the war. 

mercy_st_hospital
The Union Hospital

Unlike MOST dramas you’d see on PBS, it has some bloody/realistic scenes (being set in a makeshift Union hospital).  It’s NOT always fast-paced, BUT as it aims for historical accuracy and staying true to the (real-life) people who inspired the lead characters.  The main protagonist is a (still youthful) Northern widow, Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  She’ll will make you think of actress Dana Delaney- they’re BOTH tall, elegant, redheaded, and played nurses. 

mercy_st_letter
Nurse Phinney writes a letter for a wounded flag-bearer.

Nurse Phinney lost her husband (an older European baron) to an illness NOT too long ago; she took care of him, then got trained as a proper nurse. Mary wants to be useful, speaks confidently, works hard, and is able to stand up to the (male) doctors.  The hospital administrator/veteran doctor, Dr. Summers (Peter Gerety from Homicide: Life on the Street) is impressed by her credentials and gets her working quickly.

mercyst_exam
Dr. Foster examines a young Confederate soldier.

Dr. Jedediah Foster (Josh Radnor, w/ an impressive beard) is the best doctor at this hospital; his brusque manner and lack (or avoidance) of social niceties puts others off.   He’s also a conflicted man, hailing from a wealthy slave-owning family, BUT working as an Union contract surgeon.  This is why you don’t see him in uniform at the start of the series. Radnor is best known for comedy (How I Met Your Mother); he is also a theater actor (having worked on Ayad Akthar’s Disgraced in BOTH Chicago and NYC). 

mercy-st-drhale
Dr. Hale in his blue Union Army uniform.

 

mercy_street_anne
Nurse Anne Hastings (Tara Summers)

Dr. Byron Hale (Broadway actor Norbert Leo Butz) is the doctor who thinks he’s the top dog, BUT is less skilled and innovative than Dr. Foster.  The arrogant Dr. Hale and ambitious British nurse, Anne Hastings (Tara Summers), have an alliance BOTH in and out of work.  Nurse Hastings trained under the famed Florence Nightingale- the model for ALL nurses (esp. those in times of war). 

mercy-st-sisters
The Green sisters get involved at the hospital in different ways.

The proud Southern family, the Greens, that used to own the hotel (now the hospital) are also part of the story.  The patriarch, James (Gary Cole), balks at signing a loyalty oath to the Union cause.  He somehow managed to keep his son out of the war, though Jr. resents it bitterly.  The matriarch, Jane (Broadway veteran Donna Murphy) is concerned about the growing rebelliousness for their two daughters, Emma (Hannah James) and Alice (AnnaSophia Robb, all grown-up from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  These girls have beauty, manners, charm, and style (like proper Southern belles); they also harbor a few secrets.  The older sister, Emma, wants to volunteer at the hospital, BUT only w/ the injured Confederates (who are kept in a separate/guarded room).  Alice is angered by the fact that loyal Confederates like her family and friends have become second-class citizens in their own town. 

mercy-st-aurelia-sam
Aurelia Johnson (Shalita Grant) and Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III) in the garden.

There are three well-developed black characters in the series: Belinda (the Greens’ lifelong housekeeper); Aurelia (a young laundress who is “contraband” from the Deep South); and Samuel (a free black man who works as a porter).  We learn that Samuel (McKinley Belcher III  in his first TV role) knows a LOT, having been raised in the home of a Jewish Philadelphia doctor.  Samuel helps out Nurse Phinney and Dr. Foster on several  difficult cases.  He feels great sympathy for Aurelia, wants to be her friend, BUT she’s wary of men (and has cause to feel that way).  Samuel has to keep his head down and not cause a stir- he’s a black man in the South now. 

mercy_st_hug
Frank Longfellow (Jack Falahee) and Emma Green (Hannah James)

You MAY be surprised to see Jack Falahee (How to Get Away with Murder) as a Confederate spy.  He’s also the secret beau (hence the meeting alone in the woods) of Emma.  Frank brings some intrigue, danger, and tension to the later eps of the series (leading to the finale).