Allegiance at Charing Cross Theatre
Allegiance is a musical that is not only steeped in history but is one that is inspired by George Takei’s own life history and his determination to tell the story across the world. It is set in America after Pearl Harbour when Japanese American’s were sent to internment camps for looking like those that had bombed Pearl Harbour and bearing the brunt of American mass superstition and hysteria. Allegiance follows the Kimura family during their time at the camp and how they deal with it, from wanting to prove themselves and fight for the USA to the polar opposite and refusing to not only enlist but to swear allegiance to the USA.
This is a show that needs to be seen, in particular by British audiences, I was blissfully ignorant about the majority of the shows factual basis and as George Takei says in the programme we must remember the lessons of history and do not repeat our mistakes. The historical facts are woven skilfully into the story so it never feels like a history lesson but equally I left that theatre feeling that little bit more knowledgeable.
The book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione is well written and the characters, in particular the Kimura family, are well drawn and 3 dimensional. The audience genuinely feels like this is family, with 3 generations represented on stage, all still battling with the idea of familiar respect versus their own morality, which often put them at conflict with each other. The book is also varied there are moments of lightness and comedy but equally there are moments of real emotion, I am sure I was not the only one reaching for a tissue at one or 2 points throughout the show. Equally we see love stories and family drama all set in the context of this historical piece. Whilst it may sound a lot on paper, on the whole it works. There are however moments where the book can drag, the show is 2 hours 20 minutes in total but it does feel like there can be 15 minutes shaved off the show without losing any of the story.
A wonderful part of the show was the fact that there was so many references to the Japanese culture, from the language spoken at points to some of the dance moves through to the origami and references to hobbies such as karate and sumo. All of this helped build the authenticity of the show and it is wonderful to have a show playing in London with a focus on a culture that does not originate in the UK.
The music is at it’s strongest with its soaring ballads and in particular the numbers ‘Higher’ sung by Kei and ‘What Makes A Man,’ sung by Sammy. Both are wonderful stand alone number and even more magical when learning about her characters in the context of the show. At times it did feel like not all of the musical numbers were necessary and this added to the aforementioned feeling that show slightly dragged at points. Additionally none of the numbers have that particular hook that musicals need, I wasn’t left humming any of them and Spotify became my friend for this review in assisting to bring them back to me, less than 24 hours after seeing it.
Playing the lead, Young Sammy Kimura, was Telly Leung. Sammy is determined throughout the show to be seen as the all American hero and Leung portrays this wonderfully. As a leading man he is charismatic and her strong tenor voice really suits the numbers he delivers. In contrast to Sammy’s character is his sister Kei who has followed Japanese tradition and spent much of her time bringing her brother up and looking after her family. Kei is played by Aynrand Ferrer and she is wonderful in this role. She has the ability to have the audience weeping in her more tender songs and then the next rousing them ready to fight for what Kei believes in.
Of course no review of Allegiance would be complete without mentioning George Takei who plays Oji-Chan, the families grandfather as well as Sam Kimura, before the show jumps back to tell his story. Tekei has a wonderful ability to story tell and it felt that the tenderness displayed on stage towards him in his grandfather role was genuine. Your heart immediately warmed to Takei on stage.
The staging itself has flashes of brilliance, how the trees become barbed prison walls and how the cast weave around each other and onto the train to the internment camp, using suitcases to depict the seats. Nic Farman’s lighting design helps set the mood from dust storms through to bombings Farman achieves it all.
Allegiance is a charming but also important piece of theatre, with a focus on the history but made palatable for theatre audiences through love stories and family ties it is a show to see.
Allegiance is running at The Charing Cross Theatre until 8th April. To find out more and to book tickets you can visit their website.