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‘George Takei’s Allegiance’ review

  • Theatre, Musicals
Allegiance, George Takei, Charing Cross Theatre, 2023
Photo: Danny Kaan

Time Out says

‘Star Trek’ legend Takei stars in this sadly underpowered musical inspired by his own childhood experiences of a Japanese internment camp

George Takei was only five years old when the US government forced him, his family, and 120,000 other Japanese Americans into internment. His wartime experiences are the inspiration for what he calls his ‘legacy project’, the 2015 musical ‘Allegiance’, by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione. It is a dark and tragic story that needs teaching. But this overlong UK premiere production is limp and lacking in heart.

We meet the Kimura family – son Sammy, his older sister Kei, their father Tatsuo and grandfather Ojii-Chan – as they live a broadly happy life on a farm, just as the Second World War is brewing. When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, their lives are capsized and the family is forcefully thrown into a ‘relocation centre’ in Heart Mountain. Here, the cracks between them begin to show, as they become bitterly divided on where their allegiance should lie.
Sammy is prepared to risk his life to fight for his country, while Kei falls in love with the authority-hating Frankie Suzuki in the camp. Cue the big issues of generational and cultural difference, mixed in with all the elements of a big Broadway show. There’s some powerful moments. But in the show’s effort to pander to a showtunes-loving crowd, the story loses force. 
Unremarkable songs are reeled out one after another. A schmaltzy love story between Sammy and a white nurse (Megan Gardiner) at the campsite adds little but a dash of white saviourism to the narrative. Horrific historical moments – notably Hiroshima – come and go without the needed quiet and space to breathe.
Helmed by the Broadway star Telly Leung as Sam, the cast is left to carry a half-baked book. Aynrand Ferrer as Kei has a singing voice so seismic she manages to suffuse feeling into her underwritten role. Her performance of ‘Higher’ is probably the evening’s melodic high point. For ‘Star Trek’ fans and non-‘Star Trek’ fans alike, George Takei’s sporadic presence is almost magical. With gentle shoe tapping, bright eyes and genuine likability, it is impossible not to take to him as the family’s grandfather. His dynamic performance reminds us that this tale was once his reality.
Some bright spots, but in its current form ‘Allegiance’ just isn’t remarkable theatre.  Directed by Tara Overfield Wilkson, the atmosphere of the camp is smoothed out by sandy lighting and stylized movement. What we want instead is tension and more dramatic drive.
In the programme notes Takei writes of his hope that the message of ‘Allegiance’ can be carried past the ‘theatre walls’. And it should be. But perhaps, his musical is not the best way to spread it.
Written by
Anya Ryan


£20-£80. Runs 2hr 20min
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