The Fairy Princess was able to pop by famed NY Restaurant, SARDI’S and interview a few members of the #ALLEGIANCE family. As the show opens on November 8th, and it is currently November 4th, she thought she would put forth a series of interviews, one a day, leading up to their Broadway Opening.
ALLEGIANCE is notable for many reasons, but primarily, in TFP’s opinion, for showing us a story that falls within the American purview – it is the story of Asian Americans within America. Much like MEMPHIS or RAGTIME or 1776 showed us glimpses of America’s past with song and book- ALLEGIANCE is the first musical on Broadway to bring to light America’s incarceration of it’s own Citizens during wartime, based on nothing more than their heritage.
That being said, Americans have historically displayed xenophobia to immigrants and their generations, be they Irish, Jewish, Italian, African American, Muslim, and so forth, but the Japanese American Internment stands alone as a particularly dark period in the American story.
ALLEGIANCE and the struggles of it’s characters against injustice is a universal tale.
The following is an interview with Actor, Greg Watanabe, who plays the role of Mike Masaoka – who was a real person – and whose actions directly affected the Asian Americans that were incarcerated. Mr. Masaoka is a controversial figure to some – in fact the JACL has issued a statement protesting the use of him as a dramatic character in this piece, but Mr. Watanabe already answered that in this blog.
TFP: We’re here with Greg Wantabe, from ALLEGIANCE – these are some easy questions, so relax, here we go: where were you when you learned you were going to Broadway?
GW: I found out I was going to be in it actually in the room in NY, at Telsey and Company. I went and did the callback and then they said “Hey can you hold on and if you have something else to show us that would be great.” I was like “OK.”
Other people came in and they said “OK, we have cameras by the way, but you’re not going to audition we are just going to ask you some questions.” So with that, I walked into the room with the entire creative team there, and then they were like “What are you doing this summer?” I’m like “I don’t know, looking for work?” and they said “How ’bout being in our Broadway show?”
TFP: That’s awesome!
GW: Yeah, it was totally cool. I probably did not play it off as well as I could have. I didn’t have very good game face on. I was kind of stunned, I was just like “Really? Cool”
TFP: Did you get out of the room and do a victory dance?
GW: I didn’t. I was probably stunned for like, a good month. It was also several months coming, so it’s like…there’s that too. It was just stunning, the whole thing was kind of mind blowing.
TFP: Who was the first person you told?
GW: I think I called my Mom.
TFP: Like a good Japanese son, you called your Mommy!
GW: (Laughs) Yeah, and then I called my Girlfriend. I think I called my sister – I may have texted my sister, and some other friends.
TFP: But Mom was first?
GW: Yeah, Mom was first, I mean, you know…yeah, Mom’s first (Laughs)
TFP: Mom’s always first. I have a boy, Mommy’s always going to be first.
OK, as an API what is the thing you want people to most take away from this show?
GW: As an Asian American and as a Japanese American, I hope that people take away a sense of the importance of social justice, and I know that sounds sort of pretentious. But one of the most important things for me as a Japanese American about the Japanese incarceration experience in World War Two is that is that no one stood up for the Japanese American community – very few people did. The ACLU backed off, the JACL say they did their best but in many ways they did not support many people who were taking constitutional stands. The Quakers were the only ones who said “We’ll provide you safe harbor and some resources” and things like that.
No one else helped us at time when all of this was happening. I think that is the biggest lesson from the incarceration experience itself, that we have to show solidarity and you have to stand up for social justice, you have to keep the Government accountable to it’s own ideals. If our play can do any of that, then that would be the best thing that could happen for me. Not only would other Asian American feel that, but that the wider audience would feel that.
I think that the fact that this particular story has never made it’s way to Broadway – despite the fact that there have been many books and films and regional plays – that it’s never been to Broadway – is sort of a testament to the fact that sort of our– exclusion might be too strong a word – (but it’s lack of attention) from the mainstream storytelling stream media- I hope people see it and feel like “Hey, we can participate” as storytellers on this level and at this scale.
Those two things, that would be what I want people to take away.
TFP: That’s a great answer.
First present you bought yourself with your first Broadway check?
GW: (Laughs) Wow, That’s tough to say. I have to say, I’ve been trying to be frugal, but I always fail. And one of my big weaknesses is just going out and buying food all the time.
TFP: New York has really good food.
GW: Yeah, New York has great food. So I’m like how many purchases have I made that have been like “F##k it, I’m on Broadway!”
TFP: Right? I can get that $8 coffee, I’m on Broadway! Dude!
GW: Yeah, $30 for lunch, sure…why not? (laughs)
TFP: What’s a ‘must have’ that you must have in your dressing room?
GW: One of the things I really like having, and this sounds strange, but I really like having my coat and scarf with me so that when I go lay down somewhere I can lay down on the floor, in the balcony or on a chair or…
TFP: So you’re saying you’re in a Broadway show, but you are laying down in the balcony to catch a nap during tech?
GW: Yeah, well….
TFP: I did that during that during my tech too! No, I totally did that!
GW: (laughs) And between shows! Previews are so grueling, I had no idea how long of a process, how intense it is.
TFP: So that is my last question – you come from 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors sketch comedy and a ton of straight plays where you have gotten awards and nominations – and now you are in a Broadway musical – what is the biggest difference, hardest adjustment for you?
GW: Probably the first adjustment was underscoring. So much of my stuff is exposition that happens in between or as parts of songs – and so I’m really not used to having to start on a beat and end on a beat – even if I’m not singing, that’s still part of my job. I really had to get used to that, that was one of the hardest things.
TFP: It’s hard.
GW: The other aspect was, and I don’t have a huge role, but you know it’s an important role…
TFP: You have a pivotal role. (Greg plays JACL Leader at the time, Mike Masaoka, who was a real person during this time period)
GW: Yes, I have a pivotal role – in fact I’m going to steal that.
TFP: Yes, that’s right, you have to steal that – pivotal role.
GW: The other aspect (to adjust to) was the amount of time to do the choreography and the songs, and all the energy – almost all of it goes to that. So, you don’t do the table work like you do in straight plays, you don’t do the kind of exploration – there is just not the real estate for that, once I got used to that…It gave me a lot of freedom to be able to explore things…Stafford is the coolest director ever, the nicest man and the most accommodating, and if I ever needed anything I could always ask for it.
TFP: In musicals it’s kind of like they just trust that you are a grown up and you are going to do all that on your own and then bring it to school.
GW: That’s right., and then they’ll see about it. I just said “Well, I’ll just make a choice and we’ll deal with it later, or I’ll get a note” (Laughs) But being given the freedom was great, because of that I’m having a great time.
TFP: And I am sure we will all have a great time watching you, Congratulations!