Charing Cross Theatre – until 8 April 2023
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The forcible relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour is a stain on the country’s history, and one that George Takei has ensured will not be forgotten through his advocacy and this wonderful musical. When Takei was only 5 years old, his family were taken at gunpoint and spent the rest of the war in camps far from home. Although Allegiance doesn’t tell the story of the camps through the eyes of a child, the fictional Kimura family and their experiences still take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. After runs in California, Broadway and an online, it is high time London gets to see this heart-warming musical live on stage.
It’s a shock when George Takei walks on as gruff war veteran Sam Kimura, as we are so used to seeing the veteran actor and social media maestro beaming from ear to ear. In that brief first scene where Sam’s decades-long estrangement from his sister is established, Takei effortlessly reminds the audience of his serious acting chops before the action goes back to 1941 and he reappears playing Sam’s grandfather, Ojii-Chan. In this role, he has a permanent twinkle, gleefully clapping along with musical numbers and offering sweet words of wisdom to the fiery younger generation.
The incredible Telly Leung plays Sam as a young man, with soaring vocals and a magnetic stage presence. Aynrand Ferrer is phenomenal as Sam’s sister, Kei, who has raised him since their mother died. Ferrer’s impeccable voice and her searing emotion make for an unforgettable performance as Kei finally finds her independence, and love, in captivity. As the prisoners follow their elders’ advice and keep the gaman spirit – enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity – Sam is angry and wants to enlist to fight for his country, but is refused. As time passes, the prisoners must fill in a loyalty questionnaire, answering whether they would be willing to enlist and fight for the US and renounce the Japanese emperor. The men who said yes joined up and those that answered no were sent to a segregation camp. The tensions and fractured relationships as the men must choose their allegiance set events in motion that lead to tragedy.
The entire cast is charismatic and energetic – Masashi Fujimoto oozes strength and dignity as Tatsuo Kimura, Megan Campbell shines as the white nurse in love with Sam and Patrick Munday lots of fun as Frankie, Kei’s boyfriend, who represents everything that her brother mistrusts.
Mark Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione’s book does get a little soapy, but the pace of the story sweeps you along under Tara Overfield Wilkinson’s sprightly direction. Jay Kuo’s music and lyrics are a joy – with bombastic dance numbers, big band style, haunting ballads and sweet comedy duets. The structure and score aren’t ground-breaking, but the show is a delight – sharing this important story in an unforgettably powerful production.
This glorious show is full of heart, humour and humanity just like George Takei himself – a wonderful legacy.