ANAHEIM — “Nisei Serenade,” a nostalgic musical show featuring Japanese American youth singing songs of the 1940s in tribute to the Nisei generation, is returning to Southern California on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 2 p.m. at the Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC).

Presented by the Grateful Crane Ensemble and OCBC’s Project Kokoro, “Nisei Serenade” premiered last June in front of a packed house at Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. Described by The Rafu Shimpo as “a lovely trip down memory lane,” the show features the singing talents of Grateful Crane’s Next Generation Youth — Aimee Machida, Erika Mariko Olsen, Miko Shudo, Alyssa Nakamoto, Lisa Horikawa and newest member Drake Morinaka.

Mary Kageyama Nomura, the "Songbird of Manzanar." (Densho)
Mary Kageyama Nomura, the “Songbird of Manzanar.” (Densho)

“Through this show, we tell the history of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II through the songs that were sung, and the singers who sang them,” said Soji Kashiwagi, executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble. “For our youth, this show has given them an opportunity to learn about what happened to members of their families, as well as pay tribute to them for the sacrifices that were made on their behalf.”

Written by Kashiwagi and directed by Alison Minami with musical direction by Scott Nagatani, the one-act show begins in the present day at the Keiro Retirement Home in Los Angeles. After a performance of 1940s songs, a Keiro senior approaches Grateful Crane’s youth singers and takes them on a journey back in time to 1944, when six young Nisei singers were brought in from camps across America to perform at a special one-night-only show at Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

“Our scenario of six young singers coming into camp for a one-night-only show didn’t actually happen,” said Kashiwagi. “But the Nisei singers they’re portraying are based on real people, the songs they will be singing are real, and the stories they will be telling are real.”

Adding further authenticity to the show will be a special guest appearance by Mary Kageyama Nomura, aka the “Songbird of Manzanar,” who at age 16 delighted her fellow Nisei by singing all the favorite songs of the era at camp dances, concerts and weddings. Today at 88, she is a great-grandmother who still loves to sing — and she will be doing just that to close the show. Long-time Grateful Crane member Darrell Kunitomi also appears as the MC of the “Nisei Serenade” show in camp.

Some of the songs the youth will be singing include “At Last,” “How High the Moon,” “I Could Write a Book,” “Mister Five by Five,” “I Had the Craziest Dream,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Apple Blossom Time,” “Dream,” “Rum & Coca Cola,” and “Accentuate the Positive.”

Along with the show, former Grateful Crane and OCBC board member Tak Kosakura will be remembered for his support and dedication to the two organizations. A portion of the proceeds from this show will be donated to OCBC’s Building Fund, Phase II, in memory of Kosakura.

OCBC is located at 909 S. Dale Ave. in Anaheim. Tickets are $25. For reservations, call the Grateful Crane ticket line at (310) 995-5841 or Diana Ono at (310) 508-3966.

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