Allegiance” is the moving musical that marked iconic actor George Takei’s Broadway debut in 2015. A filmed version of the stage show has enjoyed annual screenings, presented by Fathom Events, since 2016. This year, “Allegiance” returns to cinemas on December 11 at 7:30 PM. In addition, a behind the scenes documentary, “Allegiance to Broadway,” will debut in cinemas on Tuesday December 4 at 7:30 PM.

Both films are scheduled for screenings around Pearl Harbor Day (December 7), since the show’s themes concern a Japanese-American family’s struggles in 1940s America.

Now in his early 80s, George Takei, whose six-decade career began with an iconic role on “Star Trek,” was sent to live in a Japanese American internment camp with his family when he was a young boy. His experiences inspired the plot and characters depicted in “Allegiance.”

George recently discussed this experience and more via an exclusive interview.

Musicals, films, and audiences

Meagan Meehan (MM): It’s obvious that the story behind “Allegiance” is very personal to you. How did the stage musical come about? Were you involved with the creative team from the beginning?

George Takei (GT): This is a fascinating story. We met the two men who would go on to be the producer and the composer/lyricist of the show entirely by chance, in New York City theaters, two nights in a row.

The universe must really have intended that we meet, for the first night they were seated in front of us and turned around to chat about theater, and we thought, what a nice couple of fellows, only to encounter them the very next night, again, in our same row! It was there that I first recounted the story of my own family’s experiences in the internment, and the two of them got very excited, saying that this could inspire a whole show on this topic.

That was how “Allegiance” was born.

MM: What’s your favorite moment in “Allegiance,” and why?

GT: There are so many, really. I very much enjoy the big dance number, “Paradise.” Not only is it an improbable up-tempo in an otherwise grim setting, but it tells a crucial story and provides commentary on the infamous “Loyalty Questionnaire” which my own father and mother were forced to answer, which eventually had us labeled as “disloyal” and sent away to a much harsher camp called Tule Lake.

In “Paradise” I also hear the sounds of the 1940s big band era, which I used to hear as a young boy, floating in the air from the very real socials that the internees would hold in the mess hall. I was too young to attend, but I remember that music like it was yesterday.

MM: Through the yearly screening events, new audiences keep being introduced to “Allegiance,” even though it’s been nearly three years since it was on Broadway. Why do you think the musical remains so powerful and timely?

GT: We set out to create a timeless story, and sadly, in these times this story is more relevant than ever. As a nation, we are constantly tested, to see if we have truly learned the lessons of the past. But in the rhetoric of our political leaders, I hear the grim echoes of the past.

Audiences hear it too, and they come, and they listen, because it is too important to forget.

MM: What sorts of reactions have audiences given you over the years?

GT: There was never a single performance of “Allegiance” that did not receive a standing ovation. It thrilled me to be able to look out at the emotional faces, cheering, crying, and enjoying the cathartic experience of this story together. But perhaps was most gratifying was the reaction of the survivors of the internment. We had 90-year-old audience members who made the trek to see our show, who came backstage later and told us, “You got it right. Thank you.” This meant so much to all of us.

MM: How did the musical become a film? What are the biggest differences between the stage and the screen versions, if any, and how did the project translate from one to the other?

GT: Our intrepid producer, Lorenzo Thione, has always made it a point to film each and every stage of this show, even in development, even when the unions balked at the idea, he persevered until he got the rights to film. We knew it was important to capture this story because it would go far beyond Broadway. It needed to be seen nationwide, to be brought into classrooms, to travel abroad so that others could appreciate it. The film version is perhaps more intimate than the stage version, because the cameras can capture the up-close reactions on the actors’ faces, and you get from the film a director’s edit of what he felt you should see, rather than a broad sweep that is the hallmark of live shows.

But it translated beautifully. Many have come back again and again to see the film because it provides such a unique window into the production.

Documentaries, Broadway, and advocacy

MM: This year, a new documentary about bringing Allegiance to Broadway will premiere, alongside the return of Allegiance, the film. What can audience members expect to see in “Allegiance to Broadway?”

GT: The making of a Broadway musical is rarely documented like ours was. Audiences are accustomed to seeing only the finished product, and not the process. But oh, what a process it is! We have a few weeks of rehearsals, and then a few weeks of previews before live audiences, to get the show where we want it to be. It’s a pressure cooker.

Anyone who’s ever had Broadway dreams of their own need to see how it’s done. It’s uniquely magical, difficult, emotional and gratifying.

MM: Advocacy work is obviously important to you. Please share your thoughts about what you hope viewers take away from the films. Also, what you hope to inspire in your large fan base in general?

GT: Each audience member has the opportunity not only to bear witness to what happened 70 years ago, but also to become an ambassador for that message. We made Allegiance in the hope that we would learn from our shared history, that the terrible mistakes of the past would not be repeated. When audiences see our show, they get to know a family they probably never would have met, faced with difficulties they never would have imagined.

And yet, this happened, to 120,000 Japanese Americans. I hope that audiences come away from the film with a sense of understanding, especially of the way our nation can go so quickly astray from its values, and that the targeting of others is a long tradition in our history—one that we must resist whenever it arises.

MM: Have you any other projects in the works that you’d like to mention?

GT: I have two television projects that are in the works, but which are still currently under wraps. But rest assured, if and when they come to fruition, I shall not shut about them. They are both terribly exciting, and I feel so blessed that at the age of 81, I am still a fully employed and very busy actor.