On December 13, 2016, I watched George Takei's Allegiance: The Broadway Musical on the Big Screen at a movie theater in Austin, Texas. I'll be honest, I was so close to not going. The screening was on the evening of December 13th, and I had a big final exam on the 14th in the afternoon. And a flight to the Philippines the next morning. Eventually, I decided that this show was too important for me to miss, especially after watching the production on Broadway exactly one year ago.
After following Allegiance's development for so long, I was determined to go see it when the Broadway announcement was finally made. Right after my last final exam on a Tuesday, I was on a plane from Austin to Baltimore. I had to lug everything that I was planning to bring home to Houston for the winter break with me since the dorms were closing the next day. Early on Wednesday morning, my cousins and I were on the first bus from Silver Spring to Port Authority, and we watched the show that night.
And we loved it! I went into the show knowing and loving a lot of the music already. My cousins went into the show relatively blind, and they genuinely enjoyed it.
I don't remember exactly when the announcements came out about Allegiance playing in movie theaters through Fathom Events, but I had always had really high hopes for this filmed version. In May 2015, my family and I flew to London and watched the West End production of Miss Saigon. I definitely cried a lot in the Prince Edward. To my surprise, the filmed version that played in theaters through Fathom Events in September 2016 made me cry just as much. After watching the movie adaptations of Les Misérables and Into the Woods, I was definitely craving a nice filmed version of an actual show like that Into the Woods recording with Bernadette Peters or Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway. I thought Miss Saigon did a pretty good job of integrating live shots and close-ups filmed separately, so I was curious about how Allegiance would fare.
And we definitely got close-ups. At the Longacre, I was sitting maybe around Row L or M of the orchestra section. I'm also pretty near-sighted. The experience of most of the scenes were definitely enhanced by the varied angles and close-ups. In "Do Not Fight the Storm," I liked how we really got to focus on Tatsuo as he's forced to sell his farm for ten percent of its value. Greg Watanabe's performace of Mike Masaoka was even more striking on camera. Allegiance centers on the Kimura family, but this filmed version also showed us the struggles of the Gotos and the Tanakas and the Maruyamas. "Gaman" was so much more moving when I could see everyone's faces clearly.
For me, the only shot that seemed very obviously filmed separately was when Kei goes to pick up Sammy's Purple Heart near the end. The lighting looked very different. I'm guessing it's because Kei was sitting on the ground, and the camera was shooting from above. That was the only time in the show that we had seen that angle, so it was a little distracting to me.
The only scene where I didn't enjoy having the varied shots was "Itetsuita." In my opinion, there aren't a lot of scenes in musical theater that are as powerful and as simple as "Itetsuita." I feel like we were only able to see the projection on two people before we saw it on all of them at the same time. What made this scene so powerful to me on Broadway was that we saw the projection on so many people that it felt relentless. The filmed version had a lot of sweeping shots on the actors' faces, so I feel like the audienc missed out on the full effect of this scene.
I also think there were visual effects put in during the "442nd Battle," which I didn't think were entirely necessary. I specifically remember feeling a little uncomfortable during that scene when I watched Allegiance on Broadway because the 442nd's guns were pointed directly at the audience. That's not a bad thing; it means that I was thoroughly immersed in the show. On screen, I don't think I realized the musket flashes were just visual effects until there was a wide shot and the effect was clearer than the actors. Then it became really noticeable during Sammy's close-ups.
My last little gripe is that I thought the sound mixing could have been better. Maybe it was just my theater, but towards the end of the songs when the orchestration swells, the voices got a little drowned out. This didn't bother me because I know every word, but I know that a lot of people across the country watched Allegiance for the first time that night. At least its not too difficult to figure out the last lyrics of songs. [Update: This was an issue my theater was having that evening. At the subsequent screening, the audio was much better. But it was also much lower (which made everyone in the theater keep quiet and listen carefully).]
Anyway, my overall opinion of the filmed version of this show is overwhelmingly positive. Those three (maybe three and a half) minor issues were the only negatives for me. Seeing Allegiance like this made me sad and angry again about it's short Broadway run. It's been over a year since the show opened. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. The relevance of Allegiance today is unquestionable.
There are talks of having a second screening through Fathom Events next year and an eventual DVD. I would do everything I could to see this beautiful recording on the big screen again. I plan to buy multiple DVD's and give them to high schools and middle schools. I remember how much my self-esteem rose as a kid when I saw characters like Lilo and Mulan on screen when we had movie days at school; Allegiance could be that for so many students.