Passion, resilience shine in ‘Allegiance”


Special To / The Advocate

“Allegiance” is the new musical running until Oct. 21 at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre in El Cerrito. The play follows a group of Japanese-Americans struggling to survive in the internment camps of the 1940s.

By Jose Arebola, Staff Writer

EL CERRITO — A new musical at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre here is sharing a deeply impactful and thrilling performance.

“Allegiance” follows the experiences of a Japanese-American family’s struggles to survive through the internment camps of the 1940s.

The production, running until Oct. 21, puts together a decent set, striking cast and beautiful musical accompaniment to deliver a powerful story.

This musical, exploring themes of duty and honor, delivers its message through choreography and bellowing harmonies.

The gravity of the subject and performances consume the intimate and small space in the theater as actors give compelling portrayals of hope in the face of extreme circumstances.

Sam, an elderly Japanese veteran played by Dennis Yen, receives a package from his newly deceased sister. Audience members’ attention is immediately directed to the family’s trouble as a monologue full of striking disdain shares that Sam hasn’t spoken with his family in years.

We’re taken back to 1942, during World War II in America, to watch a story unfold as a Japanese-American community has its lives uprooted from their homes and re-settled in an internment camp.

From that point in the production, each character takes on their own struggle.

The show walks the audience through the paces of each decision as new difficulties brought to the internment camps creates more strife between the characters.

The lighting design gracefully shifts tones to illuminate a brooding scene by perfectly matching mood with lighting selections.

Just as quickly as the stage can enhance the scene it can become a detriment. With such a large cast there are occasional moments where some actors are left upstage almost sulking.

Taking command of limited space, Kei and Frankie, played by Nick Rodrigues and Lindsay Hirata, give the most believable portrayals in the musical.

Most pairs have great exchanges, but Rodrigues and Hirata’s performances in particular carry a greater sense of realism.

Costume design makes it even easier to believe each scene with garments practically crisp from the 40s. Each actor is dressed just as sharp in every scene offering moments that halt the suspension of disbelief.

As conditions worsen within the camps during the performance, every musical number keeps pushing forward a spirit of perseverance. With the stage just being feet away from the audience, each musical piece strips the set down to bare bones to make use of a full dance floor.

The choreography gives off a perfect feeling of excitement, but there were some missteps throughout.

These powerful moments still do a great job displaying a beautiful, joyful hope for a future beyond their difficulties.

As each dynamic song comes to a close, despair seemed to creep ever closer. Between beautiful numbers, cast members deliver moments of painful hopelessness as their circumstances became increasingly dire.

The ability Vinh Nguyen, who plays Sammy, has to take a scene and walk through dark moments with a feeling of confident resilience is mind blowing. Contrasting feelings back and forth offer a small glimpse into just how painful these experiences must have been.

“Allegiance” explores the strength of the human spirit and shows the power of love and community can lead individuals to great actions. There is not a single correct path, but through the collective efforts of each character, a story of survival unfolds.