When I think of people being evacuated by train in the Second World War – not, admittedly, that this crosses my mind very often – the Kindertransport rescue effort comes to mind, or Operation Pied Piper, the evacuation of children from areas in Britain thought to be more at risk from aerial bombing to more rural areas. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the experiences of Japanese Americans in the United States, forced into internment camps by an executive order from the White House, even if they were US citizens. Approximately 120,000 people were directly affected by a policy rushed through in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
George Takei’s Allegiance tells a deeply personal story: the show wasn’t written by him but bares his name as it is based on actual events that he and his family encountered. Best known, even amongst people like me who have never knowingly sat through an entire episode of Star Trek in their lives, for his role as Hikaru Sulu, Takei boldly goes, as it were, into what for him is unchartered territory, making his London stage debut in a theatre that retains it is (sort of) in-the-round configuration from previous productions.
The costumes (Mayou Trikerioti) were, to my mind, entirely appropriate for the 1940s setting, whilst the set (also Trikerioti) is relatively uncluttered, with the doors on one side of the stage operating as entrances to almost anything from a nurse’s station to the afterlife (mercifully, not in the same scene). The sound design (Chris Whybrow) is nothing short of phenomenal, with every lyric by every actor clear as crystal, at least on press night. There are some sentences, conversations and even a couple of musical numbers in Japanese, but in context, none of the overall meaning is lost, either because of translations or because the strength of feeling is such that a translation is hardly necessary – sometimes, both.
There is, eventually, sufficient variation of tempo and style in the musical numbers, and the audience is treated to soaring melodies as well as big song and dance showtunes: there were ways the inmates (for that is what they were) had of entertaining themselves, and not necessarily needing a particular reason for having a dance or a party, at least at face value. But living conditions were, of course, not those of a glitzy musical, and neither were conditions in the theatre of war for those who went to fight for the Allies. Not everyone served draft papers puts on military uniform, and while this isn’t the first time resistance against conscription has been portrayed in musical theatre (thanks to Hair), it’s fascinating here how Tatsuo Kimura (Masashi Fujimoto) can see both sides of the debate, respecting those who stand up for what they believe is right, whatever those beliefs may be.
Takei himself plays Tatsuo’s father, Ojii-chan, when the main story is being told in retrospect. The narrative is bookended by him playing Sam Kimura, some decades after World War Two, who receives a visitor at his front door who tells him about a death in his family. The deceased’s name is enough to bring back memories of the war. This in turn leads to a re-enactment of wartime events, with Sammy, as his younger self was known to his peers, played by Telly Leung. Towards the end, things gradually get rather sentimental, before crossing over into melodrama in the very final scene.
The narrative is not as nuanced as it could be, with Sammy’s outlook being diametrically opposed to that of Frankie Suzuki (Patrick Munday) as neatly as north is the opposite of south. What goes on between Sammy and Hannah Campbell (Megan Gardiner) and between Frankie and Kei Kimura (Aynrand Ferrer) demonstrates, as musical theatre likes to do, that love is a powerful force that can thrive even in the most challenging circumstances. That said, I felt invested in this story throughout, despite it becoming increasingly contrived. A warm-hearted and fascinating piece of theatre, and a story that, at the end of the day, very much deserves to be told.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Inspired by the life story of renowned actor and activist George Takei, the UK premiere of the uplifting Broadway Musical, Allegiance, follows the story of the Kimura family and their struggles in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In a world ravaged by the effects of war, Allegiance reveals the courage and loyalty of family in a time of great injustice as 120,000 Japanese Americans are forced into internment camps, testing the power and resilience of the human spirit.
Starring George Takei and Telly Leung
with Aynrand Ferrer
Iroy Abesamis, Mark Anderson, Masashi Fujimoto, Megan Gardiner, Raiko Gohara, Eu Jin Hwang, Hana Ichijo, Misa Koide, Patrick Munday, Rachel Jayne Picar, Sario Solomon, Joy Tan, Iverson Yabut.
Music & Lyrics – Jay Kuo
Book – Marc Acito, Jay Kuo & Lorenzo Thione
Director and Choreographer – Tara Overfield Wilkinson
Musical Supervisors and Orchestrations – Andrew Hilton and Charlie Ingles
Set and Costume Designer – Mayou Trikerioti
Lighting Designer – Nic Farman
Sound Designer – Chris Whybrow
Casting Director – Sarah Leung CDG
Musical Director – Beth Jerem
Associate Director – Kirsty Malpass
Associate Choreographer – Misa Koide
Production Management – New Wolf Productions
General Management – Something for the Weekend
Producers – Sing Out, Louise! Productions
George Takei’s Allegiance
7 January – 8 April 2023