George Takei’s Allegiance: the Star Trek legend lights up the stage, but the child’s-eye view is missing

To a four-year-old kid, it must have felt like being teleported to another planet. In 1942, aeons before achieving renown as Star Trek’s Lt Sulu, George Takei was transported – with his family, and many other Japanese Americans – from his native California to a detention facility near Rohwer, Arkansas.

Despite his infancy, Takei noted the despair in the faces of the adults on the journey. And eight months later, there was more upset when the family went to the fortified Tule Lake concentration camp – where those adults who had failed to answer a US loyalty questionnaire appropriately were more mutinous than ever. Takei’s own ordeal lasted until early 1946.

Allegiance, a musical inspired by that bitter wartime experience and those of some 120,000 other Japanese Americans, is – then – very close to home for him. And Takei duly appeared in the show during its brief Broadway run in 2015-2016, playing both the wistful older incarnation of the show’s fiercely patriotic protagonist, Sam Kimura, as well Sam’s ailing grandfather (Ojii-Chan), interned with him and Sam’s widowed father at Heart Mountain camp, Wyoming. Now, aged 85, Takei reprises those two roles for his London stage debut, boldly going where he has not gone before, treading the boards in the arches beneath Charing Cross station.

That this is a passion project – and, he says, a “legacy project”, aimed at passing history on to future generations – is palpable and inspiring. The fictional story concocted by Jay Kuo (who also provides music and lyrics) with Marc Acito and Lorenzo Thione yields ample dramatic meat – the incarceration splits the Kimura family, Sam self-sacrificingly pushing to enlist, but his sister Kei taking the activist side of an aggrieved questionnaire refusenik called Frankie, resulting in sibling estrangement.

It’s not just Takei’s celebrity that captivates; there’s a dignity and rare benign aura about him that means even when he’s shuffling about here and there, the picture of frailty (compounded by a plotline that sees Ojii-Chan needing medical treatment), he lights up the space around him. He warbles a little, and while staying seated at points, joins in with energetic clapping when the joint starts jumping in a pastiche big band number.

But his stellar presence oddly draws attention to what’s lacking. The whole affair is slickly directed and choreographed by Tara Overfield Wilkinson, and the many serviceable (if a touch overblown and overstated) numbers are well served by a cast that includes Telly Leung, who played Sam on Broadway. Yet the crucial kernel of Takei’s life-changing experience – being a child in a world turned upside down – is missing in action. And that feels like a major omission. Any Trekkie is bound to want to catch Takei in the flesh. But as a must-see memorial to his formative story, the show’s artistic phasers aren’t fully set to stun.

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