Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, music and lyrics by Jay Kuo
Sing Out, Louise! Productions
Charing Cross Theatre
In 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the previous December, six-year-old George Takei and his family were among more than 125,000 Japanese-Americans rounded up and interned by the authorities. Allegiance is the story of just such a family, the Kimuras, a fiction but based on real life, who are removed from their home in California to a concentration camp in Wyoming.
This is an aspect of World War Two history rarely remembered: like the way German aliens in the UK (some Jewish refugees included) were sent to the Isle of Man.
Allegiance is a tale of harsh treatment and racism and of family divided by their response to the conditions they found themselves in. The story is bookended by the present day with George Takei as the elderly Sammy Kimura, still carrying the hurt of what happened then. The story starts with Young Sammy, played by charismatic Telly Leung, at a summer festival gathering of a Californian Japanese community with Takei now playing his delightful grandfather Ojii-Chan.
Sammy is eagerly American, a bit of a disappointment to his traditionalist dad Tatsuo (Masashi Fujimoto). He attracts too much attention and now has just failed to get into law school. Perhaps that his wife died when Sammy was born makes Tatsuo treat him more harshly.
In response to Pearl Harbour, Sammy and some of his fellows volunteer for the US Army but are turned away. Then the Kimuras find them selling up their possessions for a pittance, removed to a racecourse stable and eventually put on a train to Wyoming and Heart Mountain camp. Their treatment there is harsh, though nurse Hannah Campbell (Megan Gardiner) tries to help them and she and Sammy fall in love. You can't help but warm to them.
In 1943, when the government sends out a questionnaire to assess loyalty to the US that also seeks to recruit what strategists think of as a suicide brigade, Sammy enthusiastically demonstrates his allegiance by signing up. That isn’t everyone’s reaction; his sister Kei (Aynrand Ferrer), who had filled his mother’s place in raising him, turns the document into an origami flower.
While Sammy is fighting in Europe, winning a Purple Heart in an action that cost thousands of other Japanese lives, Kei and Frankie Suzuki (Patrick Munday) try to protest against their ill treatment. Hannah is tragically shot while helping them.
This is a multi-layered story supported by a strong score. While there are no obvious sing-as-you-go-home songs, it is always good on the ear with occasional echoes of Japanese song, including the delightful “Ishi Kara Ishi” sung by grandpa and Kei, bold boogie and a moving marking of the dropping of the first atom bomb. It is well sung throughout with Telly Leung and Aynrand Ferrer especially fine and George Takei captivating with his gentle charm.
Director Tara Overfield Wilkinson draws strong individual performance that also merge in a spirited ensemble. Her choreography ranges from traditional Japanese fan dance to boogie and her use of this traverse stage ensures that everyone sees everything.
There is a wry balance here between patriotic feeling and censure of harsh government action; it is history retold through personal story that echoes the feeling for justice and humane values that George Takei has shown in his public activity and it is great to see him making his West End debut in a production so close to his heart.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton