Lea Salonga and Telly Leung play siblings in "Allegiance."
Lea Salonga and Telly Leung play siblings in “Allegiance.”

NEW YORK — Actor Greg Watanabe, who plays Mike Masaoka in the Broadway musical “Allegiance,” has responded to a statement from the Japanese American Citizens League expressing concerns about the play.

In its Oct. 7 statement, the JACL said, “‘Allegiance,’ which originally debuted in San Diego in 2012, is a fictional musical inspired by the life of George Takei, who also stars in the performance opening on Broadway next month. The JACL appreciates the effort by Mr. Takei to bring the story of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II to a wide audience.

“However, it is important to keep in mind that this musical is an artistic interpretation of events that provide a backdrop for a love story. Although most of the characters, which are loosely based on individuals, have fictional names, the JACL is disturbed by the play’s use of the names of the Japanese American Citizens League and of Mike Masaoka. The JACL is concerned that by using actual names, audience members may forget that they are watching a historical fiction.

“The JACL hopes that those who see ‘Allegiance’ will see this as the start of a conversation, and an opportunity to be better educated on this horrific event, consider the implications of how this struggle has affected the Japanese American community, and recognize how it may relate to issues within their own community.”

In a comment originally posted on Erin Quill’s blog, “The Fairy Princess,” Watanabe said, “I agree with them in that I hope people who see the show will seek out more information, not only from JACL, but Densho, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Japanese American Historical Society, resisters.com or other resource organizations.

“I’m not sure how you could fictionalize the JACL in a story about the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans. I suppose you could not talk about them at all, as other stories about the incarceration have. But in a play (or musical), it’s possible to be historically factual, and still express an opinion. That is to say, FDR was president. He signed Executive Order 9066. The U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. All facts mentioned in ‘Allegiance.’

“Opinions about those facts are many and varied. Was FDR racist? Did he actually believe in the military necessity of incarcerating Japanese Americans? Was there military necessity for the use of atomic weapons on civilians?

“I believe it’s perfectly legitimate to create a fictional narrative based on actual events, and reference actual organizations and public historical figures like the JACL and Mike Masaoka.

“As with any narrative, not everyone is going to agree. I think it’s entirely possible that the JACL doesn’t agree with the narrative being created in ‘Allegiance,’ but you’d have to ask them. Also, the narrative is still in flux and won’t be set ’til ‘Allegiance’ opens Nov. 8.

“I believe this is a pretty balanced representation of Mike Masaoka and the JACL. I’m interested to hear more opinions from JACL and their membership.”

Watanabe also told The Rafu Shimpo, “I hope the JACL urges people to see and support the show and in that way continue to spark interest in this period of history.

“As I said, I share their hope that audiences will seek more information like Michi Weglyn’s ‘Years of Infamy,’ or learn about Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, read about the court cases of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui, read about the many accomplishments of the 100th/442nd, 522nd, MIS — there’s so much history and so many stories.

“If nothing else, I believe this musical will leave audiences feeling great empathy for Japanese Americans affected by the wartime incarceration. That’s why, even if for no other reason, it has my support.”

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