Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Review Yank!

Peter Barker finds charm, wistfulness and humour in an American show evoking the golden age of musicals with a World War II story of two men deeply in love. 

Music by Joseph Zellnik
Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik

Goodnight Sweetheart

Yank! is a lush musical, set mostly in the Pacific during the Second World War, steeped in the tradition of Rogers and Hammerstein who of course also used a similar wartime setting in South Pacific.

It chronicles a pair of lovers in a forbidden relationship, as did Rogers and Hammerstein in 1949, but this time the tender romance is between two gay soldiers.

The score also uses the format and stereotypes of 1940' shows and films. These include patriotic "it takes one of every kind" platoon movies featuring military men of diverse ethnicities in a squad overcoming wartime challenges and coming to appreciate and respect each other.

The creation of two brothers, composer Joseph Zellnik and lyricist and librettist David Zellnik, this musical, originally workshopped in 2005, became an off Broadway hit five years later, before the American army's repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy.

Now Yank! arrives in London, via a successful run and its European première at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre. 

At the centre of Yank! is the poignant affair of teenage military recruit Stu (Scott Hunter), who is eventually assigned a role on military magazine Yank!, and charismatic, handsome all-American boy Mitch (Andy Coxon).

Stu, an innocent whose love for Mitch is a sexual awakening, works with gay photographer Artie (Chris Kiely) through whom he discovers more about the secret life of gay men in the military.

The musical uses true life experiences from the book "Coming Out Under Fire" by Allan Bérubé and other stories gathered by the musical's creators from gay World War II military veterans.

The smooth, precise direction by James Baker, James Cleeve's excellent seven-piece band and Chris Cuming's dynamic choreography all add up to a stylish and vibrant production.

The strong story, which also includes plenty of laughs, has beautifully sung performances from Hunter and Coxon leading a polished 12-strong cast. The sole woman on stage is the versatile Sarah-Louise Young showing her mettle playing a variety of female characters.

While there's no tune in the score which made me come out humming, there's still plenty to enjoy. An old fashioned format is given an unusual twist, a likeable hero meets the challenges of life and war and there is an uplifting, though unexpected, ending.

Yank! is a relatively recent musical which pastiches the shows of the past, but still retains a heartfelt and genuine core during its two and half hours and I give it an amber/green light.

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