“The cast was absolutely outstanding, with not a single weak performance amongst them”
It is an interesting choice to hold Allegiance at The Charing Cross Theatre. The small, quirky theatre was recently home to From Here to Eternity, a stunning musical which told the story of American soldiers stationed in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbour Attack. Allegiance feels rather like a sequel to From Here to Eternity, telling the story of the aftermath from the perspective of the Japanese Americans.
George Takei’s touching musical tells the true story of the Japanese Americans forced into internment camps following the Pearl Harbour attack. A place where Takei spent a large portion of his childhood. It is clear that this musical is written from personal experience and was filled with heart. It is a moving story and a stark portrayal of the racism that was ingrained in society at the time, and a warning signal for the modern era.
The music (Jay Kuo) was cleverly written, with traditional Japanese themes intertwined with American Big Band style, and much like the cultures in the show, these styles were at times complementing each other, and at others appearing to clash somewhat.
The cast was absolutely outstanding, with not a single weak performance amongst them. A few stand outs were Telly Leung as Sammy Kimura, a young Japanese American feeling torn between his citizenship and his heritage. The song Allegiance, led by Sammy and his father (Masashi Fujimoto) was sublime. Patrick Munday as Frankie Suzuki led another fantastic performance in the song Paradise. However, the showstopper for me was Aynrand Ferrer, a powerhouse vocalist whose performance was filled with emotion. Her ballad Higher was truly breath-taking.
Given the heart-breaking subject matter, I was surprised to find some genuinely very funny moments in the show – George Takei is a great comic actor, with the humorous moments heightened by the hopeless situation that the characters were in at the time.
The set (Mayou Trikerioti) was simple and effective, however with the traverse staging, it sometimes felt like one side of the audience or another was being left out of the action a little, or that the performers were trying to find a happy medium, and at times appeared to be performing to the walls between the audience sections.
Allegiance is an incredibly powerful show that highlights an important and often overlooked part of history, and holds a vital lesson for the modern era to prevent history from repeating itself.
“in a packed space, on a tiny runway stage, and with a very green excitable cast, Anyone Can Whistle hits all the right notes”
If a play hasn’t seen a main stage since its inception in the ‘60s, running for only twelve previews and nine performances before closing, what does that mean? And a Sondheim no less. Perhaps he was just so ahead of his time, the audience couldn’t appreciate his brilliance? Or, more likely, was it just not his best, the fly in the ointment of an otherwise flawless career?
Directed by Georgie Rankcom, Anyone Can Whistle is certainly an oddball of a musical. The plot is absurd and slightly over-complicated; the music is often stubbornly un-catchy, and crammed with lyrical mouthfuls; it just feels a bit messy for such behemoths as Sondheim and Laurents. But perhaps because the Southwark Playhouse’s production is necessarily smaller than a full west-end staging, the chaos feels magnified, almost guerrilla in energy, and you know what? It works.
Not wasting any time, the plot gets going from the first note. Greedy, corrupt mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper (Alex Young) is looking to make some quick cash, and her trusty sycophant Comptroller Schub (Danny Lane) has come up with a plan: Fake a miracle and sell tickets for the honour of seeing it.
It feels like Alex Young originated her role, she’s so perfect for it. Mincing around in a fuchsia pink fascinator and matching blazer, she’s a perfect toad, caring not a jot for her townsfolk and having a glorious time of her own. Sporting razor-sharp comic timing, she also has a spectacular voice, seemingly making very little effort to reach big rich notes after Sondheim’s trademark long breathless singing rants. Young and Lane have a really gross, potent chemistry as they plot and scheme, and in a strange twist you do find yourself almost rooting for them in the end.
The rest of the cast give off a naïve optimism, as though they’re just thrilled to be invited; indeed, for Jordan Broatch, playing J. Bowden Hapgood, the sort-of saviour of the day, this is their professional debut. On occasion I catch them grinning sweetly when the focus is elsewhere on stage, soaking it all in. For nearly any other performance this would be wildly unprofessional, but Hapgood is a doomed idealist and so it’s perfectly suiting to have someone so wide-eyed for the part.
Chrystine Symone, playing Nurse Fay Apple, the no-nonsense do-gooder, often comes across as very nervous, which she needn’t be: she has the most fantastic voice, singing honestly and without flourish in her low notes, and absolutely soaring in her top register.
Considering how little the stage is- a slender runway dividing the auditorium in two- choreographer Lisa Stevens really packs it in. I especially enjoy the little number between Hapgood and the mayoress, as they frug and bunny-hop seductively in unison.
Cory Shipp’s design reflects the cast’s unadulterated joyousness, with wild ‘70s prints and garish clashing colours. And Alex Musgrave’s lighting design takes a similar cue, making liberal use of the disco ball, along with bold washes of pink and blue.
As ever at the Southwark, the live band, led by Natalie Pound, is spot on, never missing a beat but somehow promoting that same sense of purposeful chaos. There is a slight problem with levels at the beginning, and with Sondheim being so lyric-heavy, there are moments when quieter percussion or, one supposes, much, much louder vocals would be helpful. But ultimately, it’s all a good fun mess anyhow, and the plot points make themselves known eventually.
It’s understandable that in a huge auditorium, having spent wild amounts of money on production, everyone in their black-tie best, a musical like this would feel underwhelming and confusing. But in a packed space, on a tiny runway stage, and with a very green excitable cast, Anyone Can Whistle hits all the right notes.