Actress Grace Yoo
MAY 4 – JUN 2
Grace Yoo is an actor/singer/performer from Los Angeles who most recently appeared as Nan Goto in East West Players’ production of ALLEGIANCE out on the West Coast. She has also appeared in Sister Act (Musical Theatre West), Hello, Dolly! (3-D Theatricals), and TV’s Lucifer. As Grace prepares to take on the role of Kei in the East Coast regional premiere production of ALLEGIANCE, we sat down to ask her about getting to know her character, performing with Todd Rundgren, and the importance of this heart-pounding musical.
Tell us about the character you play in the show, Kei Kimura.
Kei is a hardworking farm girl who is devoted to her family and has always been the obedient daughter or mother-like figure to her younger brother. Her life turns upside down when everything she knew to be true is questioned upon arriving at Heart Mountain Camp. It is within barbed wire fences that she is free to finally find her own voice, fall in love, and take charge.
What do you admire most about her?
I admire Kei’s strength and resilience. She did not let life’s circumstances bring her down in defeat. In the end, she always chose to rise above with dignity and grace. Her fortitude exemplifies the very essence of ‘gaman.”
What qualities do you think you share with Kei?
As an older sibling myself, I think Kei and I both tend to be more “nurturing and motherly” in terms of always thinking of others.
This is not your first time performing in ALLEGIANCE. You were also in the ensemble in the recent LA production. What was that experience like for you?
It was an incredible honor to tell this story, especially in the heart of Little Tokyo. This was one of the very places that had Executive Order 9066 posted on every street corner only 76 years ago. It really felt like a full circle moment to be able to share the story of ALLEGIANCE with our community at this specific moment in time.
What was it like to work with George Takei, on whose childhood experiences the show is based, and who appeared in both the Broadway and LA productions?
I was pretty starstruck. George’s passion for this particular story was so evident throughout our rehearsal process. In fact, he has not missed a single performance since the first production of ALLEGIANCE in San Diego six years ago.
Growing up in LA, how familiar were you with the history of the period, specifically as regards the internment camps, before doing the show?
I remember this part of history was always a small paragraph or a very thin chapter in our school textbooks growing up. In middle school, I vaguely remember a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance where there was one exhibit that showed the life of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
What lessons do you think there are in this story for today’s audiences?
Our director Paul Daigneault has mentioned on the first day of rehearsals how important it was for this story to serve as a warning to our nation today. I couldn’t agree more. This timely piece is also a story about family and the power of forgiveness and love that can be experienced by all.
Without giving anything away, what is your favorite moment in the show?
One of my favorite moments in the show is towards the end of Act One when Ojii-chan (Kei’s Grandfather) says, “When I you age, I fight in war. When you Papa you age, he cross ocean. What you do?” It resonates deeply with me as a daughter of immigrant parents and reminds me of a quotation by Isaac Newton, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”
In addition to your theatre resume, you have also played the character Mulan at Disneyland. What did it mean to you to play that character? What was one of your most memorable encounters with children while in character as Mulan?
Mulan is another strong female character like Kei, so it is very meaningful to me that I get to portray these characters – especially as an actor of color. Every time I step out on stage to sing, I like to tell myself that there are kids out there who are able to see themselves in me. They may grow up to be the next ingénue in a future Disney show one day.
You last appearance in Boston was as a back-up singer and dancer for musician Todd Rundgren, who was on tour here at the Wilbur. Tell us a little bit about your life on the road with a rock band.
I absolutely loved any time we were in Boston, especially when we had days off in the Theater District. Todd actually grew up listening to Gilbert & Sullivan! His shows have always been very theatrical and definitely not like a typical rock concert. He is one of the best storytellers I know. It was amazing and humbling to travel with all these incredible and legendary musicians. Our band had Berklee alumnus Greg Hawkes from the CARS (recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this April)!
Where we might see you next? (Or what is your dream role? job?)
My dream job is to BE Oprah and/or Meryl Streep, but those roles are taken, so the plan is to continue to stay in my own lane. I hope to originate a role one day – whether in a play or musical, on stage or on camera.