Yank! (Charing Cross Theatre)

Posted: July 31, 2017 in Theatre

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With Trump sounding off again about transgenders in the American military, this musical from off-Broadway reminds of us that, long after some battles are won, the wars of which they form part still rage on. In essence, the show is a formulaic tale of doomed wartime (WWII) romance involving US service personnel. The twist is that, back in the days when “gay” still meant “jolly”, the lovers are both male. That said, it would be a great shame if the show is just to be filed in the “gay theatre” pigeon hole and then forgotten, because what really distinguishes it from many others is that it is really rather good.

Writer David Zellnik (book and lyrics) gives the story a modern perspective by framing it in flashback, with a current day figure finding a handwritten journal in a secondhand bookshop and acting out the role of its writer, Stu, an 18-year-old conscript to an army squad in training. Stu (Scott Hunter), a misfit for reasons that he does not yet understand, finds a friend and protector in the older Mitch (Andy Coxon) and their relationship develops into a romance. They are parted when Stu is lured by photographer, Artie (Chris Kiely) to join him and work as a journalist on the American forces’ newspaper Yank, but reunited later on the battle front.

Yes, it is a plot that calls for more than a single box of Kleenex, but the writer structures it cleverly, breaking up the soppy stuff with slices of rich humour. The three guys in the stenographers’ room, all posing as female characters from Gone With the Wind, are a hoot, while Hunter and Kiely delight in what could be the most suggestive tap dance routine ever. Going from green rookie to war-hardened soldier, Hunter acts, sings and dances like the best and he could be a star in the making. Coxon shows the torment of his closeted lover and Kiely makes a snappy snapper, adept at surviving in a system that works against him and his kind. Directed by James Baker and choreographed by Chris Cuming, this is a production that has heart and zing.

Most enjoyable of all is Joseph Zellnik’s excellent score (the collaborators are brothers), which ranges from lush romantic melodies to big band tunes. The feel of the 1940s is perfect, with reminders of the Andrews Sisters, Peggy Lee and more being evoked in frequent appearances by Sarah-Louise Young as singers of the era and the chorus number Your Squad is Your Squad might not have been out of place in South Pacific. Young also appears as Louise, a formidable lesbian officer who tells a suicidal Stu: “if you don’t live, you’ll never be able to make a difference”. Indeed, without the likes of Stu, a show like this may never have been able to reach the stage.

Performance date: 26 July 2017

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