"And when our children tell our story..."
Today is Memorial Day, a day where we remember and honor the people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I don’t personally have loved ones who served for the United States, but my grandparents were liberated from Japanese occupation in the Philippines by American troops.
I think it is poignant that seventy years later, a Filipino actor, Lea Salonga, would depict a Japanese-American civilian interned on American soil in the Broadway musical Allegiance. Loosely based on actor George Takei’s experiences, Allegiance depicts the terrible treatment of Japanese-American citizens in the US, and the Japanese-American soldiers who fought for the US, during World War II. The musical opened on Broadway in 2015, and was later screened in cinemas around the US. It is now available on (a rather expensive) DVD, and from May 29 will stream for a limited time on Broadway on Demand.
Similarly set during the Second World War, Bandstand tells the story of Donny Novitsk, a musician who has returned from the war traumatized, but with the desire to re-build his life following the death of his best friend. Opening on Broadway in 2017, the musical was the first theatrical production to be certified by Got Your 6, a veteran’s advocacy organization whose work includes promoting the authentic portrayal of the military in entertainment. Bandstand was filmed live during its run and broadcast in cinemas across North America. To commemorate Memorial Day, the musical is available to stream for a small fee ($6.99 US) on Broadway on Demand from May 25th at 7.30pm, until June 2.
Also set on American soil, though two centuries earlier, the worldwide mega-hit and possibly the most-anticipated filmed live musical ever to be released, Hamilton, tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, and covers battles in the Revolutionary War. Hamilton, filmed live on Broadway in 2016, will be released on Disney+ on July 3.
Returning to World War II, and moving to the southern hemisphere, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical South Pacific, was the first Broadway musical to explore stories of race and war. White characters Nellie Forbush, a nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Lt Cable from Princeton, New Jersey, learn to overcome racial prejudice when they fall in love whilst stationed in Polynesia. The 2005 Carnegie Hall benefit production starring Reba McEntire, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Alec Baldwin is available on DVD. The 2008 Lincoln Center revival directed by Bartlett Sher, and starring Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot, was broadcast on American television on Live from Lincoln Center. It is not currently officially available to view.
Staying in the Asia-Pacific region, but moving to a later conflict, Miss Saigon tells of the ill-fated love between a young Vietnamese woman, Kim, and an American G.I., Chris. An adaptation of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon first opened in London in 1989 (starring the aforementioned Lea Salonga), and ran for ten years, becoming a worldwide sensation. To celebrate the musical’s 25th anniversary, producer Cameron Mackintosh revived Miss Saigon in the West End in 2014. The production was filmed and broadcast in cinemas, and is now available on Amazon (UK) and BroadwayHD.
Again returning to World War II, but this time in Europe, An American in Paris tells the story of a young American soldier who falls in love in Paris at the end of the war. Based on a film, which was based on George Gershwin’s “tone poem,” the stage production premiered in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 2014, before transferring to Broadway in 2015 and the West End in 2017. The London production was filmed live and broadcast in cinemas around the world, and is now available on BroadwayHD.
The lesser-known musical YANK! also tells the story of soldiers falling in love, depicting the gay world that “thrived just beneath the surface of the US Army in the 1940s.” The musical was a hit of the NY Musical Theatre Festival in 2005, and had a successful off-Broadway run in 2010. Below 54th hosted a 10th anniversary concert earlier this year, and the video is currently available on YouTube.
Apart from war, one of the recurring themes across all of these musicals is love. We honor and remember with love, and that is the story that will continue to be told.