Thursday 19 January 2023


Theatre review: George Takei's Allegiance at Charing Cross Theatre

American actor George Takei is best-known for originating the role of Sulu in the television series Star Trek in the 1960. But not many know the story of the man behind the iconic sci-fi character. As a Japanese American, George and his family were sent to an internment camp during the second World War alongside over 125,000 other Japanese people living in the U.S. 

This is a not very well-known chapter in American history on home turf, and even less so outside of its borders. But the musical Allegiance – inspired by George's own story and turned into a stage show by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione – shines a much-needed spotlight on this harrowing part of history at last. After a short stint on New York's Broadway in 2015-2016 and regional U.S. productions, the musical has now come to London's Charing Cross Theatre – a small venue tucked under the wings of the station by the same name. 

When the Imperial Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, the U.S. government retaliated by entering World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also made the drastic decision to round up people of Japanese descent living in America – as they were seen as "the enemy" – and place them in concentration camps. 

This is the fate that befalls student Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung), his older sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer), his father Tatsuo (Masashi Fujimoto), and grandfather 'Ojii-Chan' (George Takei). The ironic part? Sammy very much feels like an American and had been eager to join the army and fight for his country in the war. But he was denied because of, in his own words, his "yellow face". 

Ripped away from their homes and without a cent to their name, these innocent people try to establish a life for themselves and a community in the harsh conditions of the internment camps. Over the course of months and years, they form close bonds and friendships, and try to create a sense of normality in an uncertain and inhumane situation. 

In some instances, such as Sammy's, it reinforces the urge to want to join the U.S. army and prove his loyalty to his country. Yet in others it awakens a feeling of rebellion and resistance, creating a chasm amidst those imprisoned in the camps. One that particularly rips through the Kimura family when Sammy joins the U.S. army...

The Charing Cross Theatre is an intimate space, and for the production of Allegiance the audience sits on opposite ends of the theatre, meaning the actors on the stage in the middle are in constant movement to ensure (figurative) eye contact with both sides throughout the show. This made the small production seem bigger and more energetic than the reality, and helped add to the grandeur of the story being told. This was particularly the case in bigger group sequences, such as the epic performance of "Our Time Now", which was a spectacular act one closing number. 

In fact, the music was consistently excellent, worthy of a much bigger stage. Other highlights included the heart-breaking "Higher", which was one of the many instances in which Aynrand Ferrer absolutely blew me away with her powerful vocals; show-stopping "What Makes a Men" in which Telly Leung really commanded the stage; and women's anthem "Stronger Than Before" sung once again by Ferrer, alongside Megan Gardiner as the memorable nurse Hannah, who falls in love with Sammy in the camp, and faces her own battles because of that. 

The cast is unanimously sensational and I feel privileged having has a chance to see them shine in such an intimate space. This small production wouldn't quite reach its highs without their amazing performances on the Charing Cross Theatre stage. Although the show is being promoted as "George Takei's" Allegiance, this is likely due to his story being the inspiration and him having big name recognition, as the 85-year-old actor is not on stage as much as younger Sammy, Telly Leung. I'm only saying this to set expectations, as Takei's final scene as the older version of Sam in the present day was quietly elegant and incredibly moving (yes, I shed a tear or two). And that alone deserves his name above the title. 

Yet despite the harrowing story at the heart of Allegiance, the show is filled with oodles of charm and surprising humour. With a phenomenal cast and powerful Broadway anthems, it leaves audience members feeling both educated and uplifted after its final curtain call. 

George Takei's Allegiance is playing at Charing Cross Theatre until 8 April 2023 and you can book your tickets here.

Production photo credit: Danny Kaan

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