TORRANCE — “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 Saturday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at the James Armstrong Theater in Torrance.
Presented by the Grateful Crane Ensemble, “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 Youth Singers — Aimee Machida, Erika Mariko Olsen, Miko Shudo, Alyssa Nakamoto and Lisa Horikawa.
“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.
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 five young Nisei singers were brought in from camps across America to perform at a special one-night-only show at Heart Mountain.
“Our scenario of five 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.
The James Armstrong Theater is located at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Dr. in Torrance. Tickets are $25 general admission with a newly added senior rate of $20. For reservations, call the Grateful Crane ticket line at (310) 995-5841.