With a Star Trek legend and a story about World War Two from the perspective of Japanese-Americans, this show has lots of potential before it even starts.
Add in a lush and epic score by Jay Kuo, vibrant choreography (by director Tara Overfield Wilkinson), and some plot twists that leave you completely invested in the story of Sammy Kimura (Telly Leung) and his family, and Allegiance really does prove to be a gem.
George Takei is the first person to appear on stage, to a smattering of applause you associate with Broadway entrances. He plays two parts – older Sammy and Sammy’s grandfather Ojii-Chan.
The fierce patriotism of the family is sorely tested once they are forced to sell up cheaply and relocate to what is essentially a prison camp, with little privacy and much hostility.
Although the love stories which grow in internment may be a little predictable, they nurture some beautiful duets and moments.
When young Hannah (Megan Gardiner), the white American nurse, dances to the wireless with a medical drip for a partner, it is a touching depiction of the loneliness of warfare.
Elsewhere, the plight of the “yellow-face” enemy is not hidden: when Ojii-Chan tries to make the camp feel more like home, he is abused by the guard. A far cry from the respect to elders in his pre-war community.
Allegiance does surprise now and then, thanks to design choices (Mayou Trikeriati) and lighting (Nic Farman). The camp feels flea-ridden, dusty, and oppressive.
The moment the US decide to unleash an atomic bomb obliterates a town in a heartbeat (Takei’s aunt and young cousin amongst them) is not overdone, but is a sharp shock before the celebrations of victory.
Sammy’s stubbornness and willingness to become a propaganda pawn doesn’t quite ring true, but the heroism of Japanese-Americans who enlisted and fought is rarely discussed, and this show highlights it well.
The outstanding vocal performance for me was Aynrand Ferrer as Kei, the spinster sister who (of course) finds purpose and affection out of this dark time.
Allegiance may be a tad sentimental – and more than a little reminiscent of older musicals around cultural tradition (Fiddler on the Roof) and blatant racism (Miss Saigon).
It doesn’t hurt sometimes, though, to just have a family tale, which warms the heart by the end, opening up a sliver of hidden history.
Watching Takei’s evident pride and joy in this show at the curtain call, it would be churlish to deny him his moment so many years after he was displaced as a child to the camp.
I found Allegiance rather touching, ably performed, and full of heart. It also uses the traverse setting at Charing Cross extremely well and feels it has landed in just the right place.
Allegiance plays at Charing Cross Theatre until 8 April – ticket link https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/index.php.
Image credit: Tristram Kenyon/Danny Kaan