I had the opportunity to talk with Katie Rose Clarke before the Allegiance opening night. In the new musical about the experience of a family during the WWII Japanese American internment, Clarke plays Hannah, an Army nurse who falls for Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung), an interned Japanese American citizen.
I saw the show the first weekend that it was in previews – and I really enjoyed it a lot. What first got you interested in the project?
The show has been around since 2009 in development. It [initially] wasn’t on my radar because, as far as I knew, the show was cast, so when I heard it was coming to Broadway, I assumed there wasn’t a role for me. Then I got an audition for it, and as I read through the script, I was in awe of the subject matter, which I knew so little about, and by the idea of being a part of a story that has never been told, a part of history that so few people have much knowledge about. [At that time], I could not read enough about that era in our nation’s history because I, embarrassingly, didn’t know anything about it. So the whole idea of the show resonated with me.
Did the character of Hannah undergo any changes after you joined the cast?
It really did – [the writers] catered to my strengths.
My character is influential in the story not only in that she breaks boundaries and is able to grow past a lack of knowledge about another group of people, but [also because] she is the only character who gets a lot of clarity about what’s right and wrong. The show is about allegiance, and her allegiance really comes together through this experience over what is right and what is wrong, and she aligns her heart.
Was the romance already in place when you joined the cast?
It had been in place that [Telly’s character] and [my character] would fall in love, but one of the things that was still not in place was: how early on does that happen? Even right now, I’m still exploring that. How early on does she have a physical attraction to him? And when does that become more of a heart connection? Initially, it was just a love at first sight sort of thing, and it was very easy, [but then] it didn’t really ring true anymore. That has been something we’ve played with a lot.
My husband and I are an interracial relationship, and it’s exciting thing to see a couple like us onstage.
Yeah, nowadays [interracial relationships] are so common, especially living in New York City! So how soon that happens in the story of Sammy and Hannah and the challenges they face – a modern audience won’t necessarily immediately put it together. It wasn’t easy; they couldn’t just fall in love regardless of race. So that was something that we did explore.
I actually had the chance to see you perform on tour with the cast of Wicked [as Glinda]. Your experience doing Wicked, which was a set show, must have been so different from Allegiance, which was still in development when you joined the cast.
Oh yeah – I have two Broadway credits before this one [Wicked and The Light in the Piazza], [but] originating a role in a brand-new show is tremendous. It’s something that I always wanted to do – it’s been a dream of mine. You definitely get the opportunity to put your own stamp on it and bring your heart.
One interesting parallel between Wicked and Allegiance is that there’s this rapport that develops between two women. It was so interesting to watch that develop between Hannah and Kei. What was that like?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with wonderful women. I think that I’ve had more leading women than I’ve had leading men, and I love that. I think there’s something so profound and unique about female relationships, because we’re such a relational sex. I’m very analytical, and I want to know about other people and try and relate to them. When it comes to relationships, I really like to dive in, and I’m not afraid of going deep with people. So I find it really exiting getting to do that onstage. What’s interesting about the Hannah and Kei friendship is that they form what bonds them at the very last minute, but they aren’t actually given the opportunity to invest in each other and have the friendship that you think they’re going to have. And so it’s really sad.
Any reaction to getting to work with Lea Salonga or George Takei?
Oh yeah – we all grew up hearing Lea’s voice. She’s one of the first voices that I ever knew. She is amazing, and I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to work with her. In the theater [our dressing rooms] are on the same floor (our theater is spread upwards – it’s really narrow and tall), so she and I have gotten a lot of opportunities to get to know each other a little bit.
George is one of the warmest human beings in the whole wide world. He’s awesome. George and I have this scene together at the top of Act II, so every night at intermission we’ll get a chance to talk and catch up. Even during rehearsal he’ll just be sitting there and will regale you with stories of his experience and his memories of it. Working with them has been amazing – they’re my colleagues and my friends.
What does it mean to the cast for this show to be successful?
It already is – we don’t need awards, we don’t need recognition. We’re here and we are telling this important story.
- Interview with Michael K. Lee of Allegiance
- Review: Allegiance Brings Japanese-American Internment to Broadway
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Em Liu is a fiction enthusiast particularly interested in depictions of women and minorities on screen, on stage, and on the page. She blogs at FictionDiversity.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @OLiu1230.