Review of ‘Allegiance’: “A beacon of intentions”

George Takei’s semi-biographical musical lands on the West End upon its previous first runs both on Broadway and across the US. Guillermo Nazara reviews this new original piece dealing with the aftermath of war and racism, to share his thoughts about a work that aims to do justice to the spirits of thousands of people who never got it in life.

Grief creates beauty. We’ve always been fascinated by the romantic image of the downtrodden artist – that cracked soul channeling their sorrow through the gifts of their mind. Yes, it’s true: a broken heart can reassemble its shattered pieces into something greater than it ever was. But for every beam of light shedding in this world, there’s a shadow to be cast. The darkest episodes in mankind’s history are in fact the ones where war (regardless of the sort) is their main character – but most often, their gloomiest lines concern those who actually had nothing to do with it, as their only crime was being around. This is one of those stories.

George Takei’s acting career has gradually been redefined by his continuous advocacy for social equality – his many causes ranging from his worldwide acknowledged defense of the LGBT+ community (beginning in a time when rainbow flags were still a trend of the underground) to his vindication for immigrant rights. Confined to a Japanese internment camp when he was only a child (a controversial measure implemented by the US government upon the attack on Pearl Harbor), the motivations fueling the creation of this show are more than just a personal connection to its narrative – it’s the lusting need to raise awareness about unredeemed suffering. The intentions are fairly good. The belief, immensely noble. The result, only halfway through.

War musicals are no stranger to the mainstream market, let alone those having to do with the Americans being in confrontation with an Asian country – South Pacific and Miss Saigon not just being a most accurate example of the kind, but also two of the most relevant pieces in the genre’s entire history. All of them always recurring to the (believed to be) working formula of the two lovers separated by the volatile impulses of a conflicted fate, the similarities regarding both structure and premise are, inevitably, too constant – therefore making all small detail (concerning absolutely everything) a crucial tool to avoid that close lurking road to the most feared of categorizations: average.

Allegiance does have a voice of its own, though, but only to some degree. The show’s aim to raise consciousness about an unjust plight that otherwise could be easily forgotten is admirable and, in all honesty, successful in that regard. But sadly, the final product lacks the proper polishing to make it as memorable as the purpose of its inception. Written by Jay Kuo (his credits encompassing both music and lyrics as well as the book, the latter along with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione), the score features some slightly hummable tunes (all of them quite accessible in style and complexity to its audience), but fails in providing them with any originality. With a traditional Western flavour surfacing far too frequently (the show is supposed to celebrate Japanese culture), the songs, though enjoyable, sound too reminiscent of something you may not recognize but know you’ve heard before, while the lyrics seem too blunt and requiring further subtlety – it’s not about telling exactly how a character feels or what they want, it’s about making the viewer come to that conclusion.

An akin problem can also be spotted in the treatment of the plot – some of the characters’ arcs feeling way underdeveloped, on several occasions giving the vibe that the story moves along too quickly and, subsequently, that too many things are happening. Though it’s pacing is acceptable (it does do the job at keeping you entertained), there are some moments that however seem a bit long – the solution for the whole flaw perhaps beings a matter of rebalance: take away the superfluous and deepen into what the public is able to connect with. Make us care for them, makes us understand their pain and frustration, make us cry when they are gone… Luckily, many of us have not lived through a war – but, not as fortunately, we do understand the woe that comes from a family that’s deemed to wreck, or the sudden unexpected and incomprehensible loss of those we’ll always love. Write from and for the heart to make others beat with yours.

The cast, on the other hand, is most likely the grandest contribution to the production. Starring Takei in the double role of Old Sam Kimura and Grandfather Ojii-Chan, the excellence of his performance stems from both his accomplished duality onstage (his effortless transformation into each character being quite praisable) as well as the charm, warmth and (contradictory but factual) frail strength he’s able to endow his main part (the grandpa) with. The other shoutout goes to Telly Leung as Takei’s fictional younger-self, exuding great stamina and stage presence, as well as quite competent singing abilities.

With an attractive functional set design by Mayou Trijkerioti and efficient illumination by Nic Farman, Allegiance is more of a fully staged workshop that still needs further reshaping. It does have the potential to become one of a kind, but thus far it dwells within the limbo of attempted ideas – all of them good, yet in need to find that rare spark that triggers lighting in a bottle.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Tristam Kenton.

Allegiance plays from Monday to Saturday at London’s Charing Cross Theatre until 8 April. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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