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We interviewed ALLEGIANCE cast member Sam Tanabe, who will be making his SpeakEasy debut! He was previously in Boston last spring performing Finish Line: A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon with Boston Theater Co and the Boch Center. New York credits include ALLEGIANCE on Broadway (Swing, u/s Sammy), Red Eye of Love Off-Broadway, and Hello Dolly! (Barnaby) with the National Asian Artists Project. Sam has also performed at the Goodspeed Opera House, Sacramento Music Circus, Dallas Summer Musicals, and the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
Tell us about the character you play in the show, Sam Kimura.
Sam is a tough, nuanced character to dive into, as he puts on a tough exterior during a time of extreme adversity. As a young, first generation Japanese-American, Sammy struggles to find the balance between honoring his Japanese heritage and fully assimilating into mainstream America. The problem is how can he do that at a time when the American government views the Japanese American people as a wartime threat?
This is not your first time performing in Allegiance. You were also in the original Broadway production as both a swing and understudy for Sam. What was it like to be a part of the legendary production?
The original Broadway production of Allegiance was an amazing experience. It was incredible working alongside stars like George Takei and Lea Salonga, and the cast became really close telling this important story. Being a swing was hard work. I was covering seven ensemble roles and was also one of the understudies for Sammy. I was constantly watching the show, studying blocking, and of course being thrown on when someone called out!
What was it like to work with George Takei, on whose childhood experiences the show is based?
Working with George was such a joy! He really is one of the kindest people I have ever met. It was powerful listening to George’s personal experience from the camps. Being in the room with someone who was there added another layer of emotion and urgency to the story we were telling. Seeing his passion regarding this subject has made it even more important for me to do the same.
How familiar were you with the history of the period, specifically as regards the internment camps, before doing the show?
There was much I didn’t know about the internment camps before I began my journey with Allegiance. It is a topic often glossed over in textbooks and a conversation often avoided by Japanese-Americans. I never asked my grandma about the camps before Allegiance, but when I did she told me that I did have some family that was sent to camp and family that fought in the 442.
What lessons do you think there are in this story for today’s audiences?
It scares me to see the same fear and suspicion that the Japanese receive throughout Allegiance prevalent in today’s world. It is dangerous to make generalizations about a group of people based on the actions of a few. Racial prejudices still exist today, even though the focus may have shifted from one marginalized group to another. I pray we don’t see history repeat itself.
You last appeared in Boston in a production of the play FINISH LINE, which was about the Marathon bombings. What was that experience like for you?
Finish Line was my very first time in Boston, and what an introduction it was! There is a strength here that you won’t find anywhere else. I constantly found myself in tears during Finish Line rehearsals, listening to the tenacity of these people. The story of Finish Line isn’t about the bombers, but instead about the people of this city and their actions that day.
What was it like for you to be in Boston on Marathon Day this year, having just performed in that play one year ago?
This was my first year in Boston for the marathon. It was incredibly exciting watching the runners cross the finish line. Completing a 26-mile run is an incredible feat in itself, but running in Boston seems especially meaningful, knowing that you are crossing over spots where professionals and civilians alike selflessly jumped barricades to aid the victims in 2013.