For the second production in as many months at the Charing Cross Theatre, the opening scenes are punctuated by Roosevelt’s ‘a date which will live in infamy’ speech. In last year’s revival of From Here to Eternity, those words took us back to the men serving on the air base at Pearl Harbor. In George Takei’s Allegiance, the attack on Pearl Harbor begins a dark period of history when over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly interred.
George Takei, perhaps most famous for playing Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, aged just five years at the time, was one of those held captive with his family. These real-life events have inspired Allegiance, which makes its UK premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre following a successful run on Broadway.
Book writers Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione have taken inspiration from Takei’s own life story, but this is a fictional account of a different family. One where individuals within it struggle to determine where their own allegiances lie, and are tormented for decades by their own internal conflicts.
There’s a brief prologue set in the present day, in which Takei plays Sammy Kimura, before we head back to 1941, where Sammy is played by Telly Leung, and Takei transitions to the role of grandfather. Sammy attempts to enlist, but is turned away, with prejudice against Japanese people rife following the attacks, “flat feet?” asks the nurse (Megan Gardiner) which Sammy eventually falls in love with, “yellow face” he retorts.
Sammy, his sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer), father Tatsuo (Masashi Fujimoto), and grandfather Ojii-Chan find themselves interred at the camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Sammy still wants to enlist, to prove his loyalty to his country, but Kei urges him not to draw attention to himself, later going on to join the camp resistance, and falling in love with its leader.
Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione’s book explores a devastating period of history which affected a huge number of people, but distils the experience into handful of players. It cleverly takes on different viewpoints, most notably that of Mike Masaoka, an individual who probably hoped history would be kinder to him.
The soaring and rousing music and lyrics by Jay Kuo are a delight to listen to, the ballads are hauntingly beautiful, with subtle nods to Japanese musical culture, but there are plenty of more energetic numbers to enjoy too.
If it all seems a little corny at times, it’s because Allegiance feels like a musical from the golden age of Hollywood, one of those from the forties or fifties that enjoy Sunday afternoon reruns, something that director and choreographer, Tara Overfield Wilkinson, effortlessly conveys, especially in the ensemble numbers.
Allegiance is epic in its storytelling, and the music is glorious, so it falls to the cast to complete the trifecta. There is clearly much love from the audience for George Takei, and while the role is small, Takei captivates us for every second he’s on stage. Telly Leung gives a commanding performance as Sammy, easily leading a fantastic ensemble cast. Aynrand Ferrer is breath taking as Kei, delivering more than one showstopping solo numbers.
George Takei’s Allegiance is a thing of beauty; a startlingly honest story that still manages to offer a vision of hope. Audiences will go for George Takei, but they’ll leave moved, uplifted, and most importantly, entertained.