8Questions: Interview with ‘Allegiance’ actor Michael K. Lee

Michael K. Lee performs in Allegiance with Lea Salonga
Michael K. Lee performs in Allegiance with Lea Salonga

As a reader of 8Asians, you’re probably aware of the Broadway musical Allegiance, currently running at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. Featuring the talent of George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, Allegiance opened on November 8th to positive critical acclaim. A show about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the musical is already making waves with original songs such as “Gaman,” “What Makes A Man” and Salonga’s uplifting and inspirational performance of “Higher.”

One part of Allegiance that captures an authentically American spirit of rebelliousness is the song “Paradise,” an energetic ensemble performance led by Michael K. Lee as the resolute draft resister Frankie Suzuki. A boisterous big band buster seething with saucy snark and swing, “Paradise” expresses the cynical sentiments of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee as they protested the government’s efforts to enlist them while their families remained incarcerated.

Thanks to The Fairy Princess, we had the chance to chat with Michael about his role in Allegiance:

I know the show has changed considerably since San Diego, with a few changes since previews began on October 6th. Can you share with us some of the changes?

The show has evolved a great deal since San Diego– You know, the show has evolved a great deal since first preview! Haha… all done with the express purpose of streamlining the story. On Broadway alone, we’ve added a new opening number, “Wishes on the Wind,” a new community/baseball scene, a new victory swing, and a new finale, “Still a Chance.” Seriously. And I’m not letting the cat out of the bag here, because I think anyone who was able to see our first shows and have been lucky enough to see it after opening have been privy to these changes. And they’re all so great.

Since the San Diego production, I think all of the characters have really been given dimension. Kei (Salonga) is stronger, Sammy (Telly Leung) more resolute with his convictions. My character Frankie has also been given more form, focus, and determination. Also, in San Diego– I didn’t sing my proposal to Kei!

Your character, Frankie Suzuki, was a rather rebellious character compared with Sammy. Knowing what you know about the incarceration, which side do you think you would have taken (Sammy, Frankie, maybe even Mike Masaoka)?

You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.

It’s a tough question. I was a social psychology major at Stanford, and one of the things I learned is that social circumstance dictates social behavior. If I were a young man in 1940s, wrongly imprisoned for my ethnicity, I think I would have done everything in my power to prove people wrong. I know when I was in high school, I did everything possible to fit in and be just like everyone else. My family was the only Asian family where I grew up in upstate New York. When the stakes are that high, I think the exuberance/naïveté of youth would have propelled me to fight and join the 442nd Regiment. But after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me as an American.

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‘Glee’ is Looking for a Filipina Maid

(Clockwise from top left) Deedee Magno, Joyo Velarde, Jocelyn Enriquez, Pinay and Lea Salonga

It’s just a couple of days before the season premiere of Glee (on April 13th to be exact) and I, like millions of others, am more than ready for the TV-meets-musical phenomenon.

A couple of weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly TV writer Michael Ausiello said that Glee is casting a character named Amelda, a “fiftysomething Filipina or Hispanic actress” to play Sue Sylvester’s maid.

Let’s just forget the fact that there is an element of stereotyping with this casting call. For one, Sue (the arch nemesis of the show) is already the most politically incorrect cheerleading coach on the face of the planet. The audience already hates her – so it’s expected. Secondly, Jane Lynch does a brilliant job slipping into the tracksuit of the acerbic Sue. Thirdly, if we spent all of our time dissecting all the culturally sensitive items in this show, we would be here for a long, long, long time – so let’s just enjoy the fun musical numbers on the show!

Nonetheless, if the producers of Glee still haven’t found someone to fill the role of Amelda, I took the liberty to compile a list of Filipina singers/actresses who would be perfect. However, I have taken the detail of “fiftysomething” out of the equation. Asian people don’t age, so that detail is irrelevant.

  • Lea Salonga: You can’t mention musicals without throwing in Lea’s name. She was the original Kim in Miss Saigon and she was Jasmine’s singing voice in Disney’s Aladdin. Any time the topic of music-oriented Filipinos comes up, you have to mention Lea Salonga. I think it’s a law.
  • Jocelyn Enriquez: I could see it now: a high-voltage choreographed number whilst the Fil-Am queen of dance-pop belts out her hit, “Do You Miss Me” – with a feather duster.
  • Deedee Magno: She’s also taken center stage as the lead in Miss Saigon and was in the Mickey Mouse Club-produced pop group, The Party (I have their first album on cassette). I can totally see her in a love triangle with Artie (Kevin McHale) and Tina (Asian American actress Jenna Ushkowitz) to Brandy and Monica’s classic R&B man battle tune “The Boy is Mine”.
  • Pinay: The all-girl R&B group originally consisting of Angelica Abiog, Irma De Los Santos-Lazamana, Loredie Lugos and Maylene Briones were cut from the same cloth as En Vogue. Rather than a single maid, their rich harmonies would represent a housekeeping quartet of Filipina soul. They could so get down with Glee club resident vocal powerhouse Mercedes (Amber Riley).
  • Joyo Velarde: Ever since I saw this hip-hop soulstress perform at SXSW, I was hooked. I think I have a crush on her. Besides that, I could definitely see her as a sassy maid that would spike Sue’s protein shake with a laxative. I also envision another high-production number that will specifically hone in on the pop-locking skills of the Glee member known as “Other Asian” (a.k.a. LXD member Harry Shum Jr.).