George Takei’s Allegiance brings a war story that focuses on humanity to the stage. The musical highlights very current themes of political polarisation and the generational gap whilst telling a touching story of empathy, culture, and human connection. 

Credit: Danny Kaan

Written by Marc Acito, with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo, the musical premiered at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in 2012, subsequently transferring to Broadway and then being adapted into a film. The London production is Allegiance’s European premiere. The show tells the story of Sam Kimura (George Takei/ Telly Leung), a Japanese American who was sent to the Japanese internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming after Pearl Harbour. 

Allegiance is a fictional story based on the real stories of Japanese Americans during World War II. Takei himself, along with his family, and another 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps for years after the Japanese Empire bombarded the harbour in Hawaii. 

As someone with only passing knowledge of the real-life events, I felt they added just enough historical context to set up the background of the story without overly focusing on the world events. The show chose to focus instead on the individuals and the human impact of the war and their lives, as their freedom was taken away because of their heritage. 

While much of the story focuses on Sam (Takei), I felt as though his sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer) was an incredibly well-developed character, who despite her personal growth remained consistent as the bridge between, not only the members of the Kimura family, but also the members of the community at Heart Mountain. Ferrer’s portrayal was a highlight of the show for me. 

The story in and of itself isn’t overly complex, but simple enough that allows the characters to shine through. One thing that fell short for me were the songs. While there were some highlights, like the simple but touching duet ‘Ishi Kara Ishi’ and the tense and heart-breaking ‘How Can You Go?’ Some of the songs, no matter how well performed by both actors and the band, felt like they needed more work. The lyrics felt clunky and not quite fitting the melody in places, causing the performers to have to manoeuvre their way around the words rather than being able to flow through them.

Credit: Tristram Kenton

One thing that positively surprised me was the use of Japanese language throughout the show. Most of the time, blending seamlessly with English and without worrying about translating for the audience. Translation isn’t really necessary when you can still understand the context, and it really adds to the characterisation, especially to the older characters on the show. Having some of the younger characters switching between Japanese and English as a way of bridging the gap between the elderly and the young, who spoke only English, was a subtle way of highlighting the generational differences.

But I think what sticks with me the most is how timely Allegiance feels, despite the show taking place during World War II and having premiered over a decade ago. Not only because of the topics about race, war, and violence. But also because of the political polarisation, and the impact it can have in family unities. What was particularly interesting to see was how well both sides of the discussion, between the generations of Japanese Americans, was presented, leading the audience to have empathy for both extremes of the argument. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

George Takei’s Allegiance is playing at Charing Cross Theatre until 8 April 2023.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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