Movie and TV icon George Takei will come to Moab on Labor Day weekend, to narrate the world premiere of a chamber-music work inspired by his experience in Japanese American internment camps during World War II.
The work, “Lost Freedom: A Memory” by composer Kenji Bunch, will debut Saturday, Sept. 4, at the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, as part of the Moab Music Festival, the festival announced Wednesday.
The festival, in a statement, said it commissioned Bunch to write the work based on the “Star Trek” star’s speeches, personal writings and recollections, which were compiled by the festival’s music director, Michael Barrett. The work is the first to be produced as part of the festival’s new Commissioning Club.
Takei, 84, was just two months shy of his fifth birthday on Feb. 19, 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the forced removal of some 120,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their homes on the west coast. Those citizens were relocated to camps away from the coasts. (One of them was Topaz, near Delta, Utah.)
Takei’s family was forced to leave their home in Los Angeles to live in a “relocation center” in Arkansas and two sites in California during World War II. The text for “Lost Freedom” is based on Takei’s impressions of that time and of his family’s struggles returning to Los Angeles after the war.
In its release, the festival noted that Moab played a part in that tragic history. The Dalton Wells camp, originally created by the Civilian Conservation Corps about 13 miles north of Moab, was used as an “isolation camp,” where so-called “troublemakers” from other internment camps were sent.
“Conditions in Dalton Wells were worse than conditions in the regular camps,” according to documents filed to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places, to which it was named in 1994. “The inmates, all men, were denied permission to visit Moab, had their mail censored, and were not allowed contact with their families.”
Takei is best known for playing Lt. Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise, on the original “Star Trek” TV series and in six movies in the franchise. He has become a human rights advocate, and an icon to both the Asian American and LGBT communities. He has 3.2 million followers on Twitter.
Takei helped translate his experience in the camps into a musical, “Allegiance,” which debuted in San Diego in 2012 and played on Broadway in 2015. He co-wrote an autobiography in graphic-novel form, “They Called Us Enemy,” which was published in 2019.
Bunch, a violist, and six other musicians will perform the work as part of a program with works by Japanese American composers. The other works on the program are: “Duo Lyrico” for violin and viola, and “Redwood” for viola and percussion, by composer Paul Chihara (who is also a survivor of the camps); and three movements from “Synesthesia Suite” by composer Andy Akiho (who also performs in the ensemble).
Tickets for the Sept. 4 performance of “Lost Freedom” are $40 each, and are on sale at the festival’s website, moabmusicfest.org.