Mugiishi goes for broke, pledges his 'Allegiance'
Left photo, Lea Salonga and George Takei are among the stars of “Allegiance,” premiering Nov. 8 at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. Right photo, Telly Leung and ensemble, in “Allegiance.” Photos by Matthew Murphy, courtesy “Allegiance.”
Note: This is an expanded version of my Show Biz column of Nov. 8 (www.staradvertiser.com), on local doctor Mark Mugiishi and his journey to become a Broadway producer with tonight’s premiere of “Allegiance” in New York City.
Left, Dr. Mark Mugiishi, leading "Allegiance" producer from Hawaii; right, Playbill for "Allegiance." Photos by Wayne Harada
Call it a pledge of “Allegiance” — with historic magnitude.
Dr. Mark Mugiishi, a Honolulu surgeon, becomes a first-time Broadway producer of the new wartime internment camp musical, “Allegiance,” premiering tonight (Nov. 8) at the Longacre Theatre in New York.
His is a history-making journey of astounding perseverance, beginning about four years ago and culminating in the “Allegiance” premiere tonight.
Mugiishi heads an island delegation of 275, including 130 show investors and their families and guests, who have assembled in New York for the launch.
Mugiishi championed a fundraising drive among his Hawaii colleagues and friends, including his doctor colleagues and Iolani School buddies dating back to his basketball coaching days — to amass the largest sum, undisclosed, due to Broadway protocol to keep numbers private — of the musical’s $13 million budget.
It’s also his birthday weekend; Mugiishi, a Honolulu surgeon, turned 56 Saturday, (Nov. 7) on the eve of opening night of “Allegiance.” So it’s a double-barreled milestone for Mugiishi.
“I’ll celebrate belatedly,” he said of the birthday.
Weeks of anticipation and shinpai — Japanese for worries and concerns — preceded tonight’s premiere.
He packed Big Island cookies and Hawaiian Host macadamia nut chocolates as omiyage for cast and crew.
He purchased a tuxedo, since the premiere is a formal event, but gave up on lei, since his mid-week departure was too far ahead of opening night, and logistics of lei presentation (when, where and to whom) made the floral tradition a challenge.
For his part in the fundraising, Mugiishi’s name will appear first among all investor producers and above the title of the show, reflecting his formidable feat well beyond imagination.
“Hawaii’s130 investors cumulatively put in a sizable number in the multi-million dollars, towards the musical with a $13 million budget,” he said.
What Mugiishi could reveal is that each minimum investment of $25,000 meant two tickets for donors on opening night; $50,000 translated to four seats, and so on. Do the math: the 275 locals will fill nearly a fourth of the 1,057 seats at the Longacre Theatre. That’s a lot of dough, baby.
Called “Doc” by his colleagues, Mugiishi organized and inspired the Hawaii Hui to write huge checks in a process involving informational sessions, with appearances by three of the musical’s principal stars: George Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung.
It’s what you do, to pitch an unknown entity among Broadway game players to capitalize a minimum budget to make the prospect “legit” beyond the dream level.
Mugiishi is the former Iolani basketball coach who never played the game, but led his team to seven championships; a surgeon, he now is senior vice president of clinical affairs at Hawaii Medical Service Assn. (HMSA). He also is a surgeon/physician at the Ekahi Health/Central Medical Clinic at Kuakini Hospital.
He’s never produced a Broadway show, so it’s still too early to know or say if the financial payoff will succeed. The show’s advance sales — subscribers who buy tickets well in advance, to give the production momentum and legs — have been moderate, compared to quick hits like this season’s “Hamilton,” a musical about Alexander Hamilton, which was a hit well before the opening curtain (OK, it had a preliminary run off-Broadway as insurance and a trial balloon).
Mugiishi joined the fundraising team for the upstart musical, like donors who ultimately took his cue, because of the unlikely theme of the show: a story, with songs, about the wartime internment camps. A tuner with such a downer of a plot? Yes, it was a struggle, initially.
“Allegiance” features a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, based on the emotion-charged theme of innocent Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in camps during World War II. Though not spotlighting a Hawaii internment facility was situated at Honouliuli, the impact of such governmental crimes still resonate with islanders.
“Allegiance” is based on actual interment memories of actor Takei, Sulu from the “Star Trek” franchise, and also stars Salonga (“Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and Leung (“Glee”). Original songs are by Kuo; the production is directed by Stafford Arima and choreographed by Andrew Palermo. …
INVESTOR NOTES: Investors could readily bond with the show’s internment plot, though initially, it was a tough sell to enlist locals to commit to investing in “Allegiance.”
Said Karen Ono, wife of gastroenterologist Warren Ono: “It’s just a fascinating story; my mother and her family were living in the Sacramento area during the war so we invested because of the emotional bond and a passion for the story.”
Dan Arita, a Data House technology specialist for 40 years, said, “This is a story that needs to be told and perpetuated — for the greater good of America … the wartime story of people whose lives where changed when they were placed into an internment camp, without committing a crime.
“I’m 79 years old,” said Arita. “But I remember that era where Hawaii people were being impacted. I was about 7 years old; there was a lot of talk families being uprooted. And anxious moments.
Trevor Benn, who is not Asian but whose wife is Japanese, is founder-owner of the Benn Pacific Realty. He said his passion for the show is separate and distinct from ethnicity.
“I hope it’s a wild success, not just financially, but for the basic understanding of the story — about a family who had everything taken from them, when they did nothing wrong,” said Benn. …
HAWAIIAN CONNECTION: Two cast members have Hawaii ties. Lea Salonga, who portrays Kei Kimura, is married to Robert Charles Chien, whose family is here; Greg Watanabe, who plays Mike Masaoka, the only true-to-life character who was the president of the Japanese American Citizens League, has an aunt here who is part of the Sumida Watercress Farm hui. …
Further, backstage, there’s another Hawaii ex-pat: Melanie Tojio Lockyear is an associate director; she earlier starred in “Miss Saigon” and “Les Miserables.”…
TRADE WINDS: Congresswoman Mazie Hirono is expected to be among the Hawaii notables attending tonight’s premiere. …
While Hawaii had a wartime internment camp at Honouliuli, the musical focuses on the personal experiences of George Takei, whose family members in the retelling — the Kimuras — were removed from their farm in Salinas, Calif., to the Heart Mountain internment camp in the plains of Wyoming, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which launched the U.S. involvement in World War II. …
THE LOCAL ANGLE: To mobilize and move 275 people to and from New York, Mugiishi enlisted a travel group that worked with individual fliers on their preferred carrier — many chose the Honolulu-to-Newark direct flies on Hawaiian and United — with discounts at four hotels in the vicinity of the Longacre, located at W. 48th Street and Broadway. At the top of the scale: $225 rates per night at the W New York at Times Square. …
QUOTABLE: The key Hawaii presence in the musical is a moment when a soldier comforts Sam Kimura (played by Leung) about the 442 Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion GIs, ready to roll out a rescue mission in France, saying, “Don’t worry; what do Hawaiian soldiers say? ‘Go For Broke!’” …
Kind of sums up Mugiishi’s pledge of “Allegiance.” …