Guest Review by Matt Richardson.
YANK! comes to London after a successful opening at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester from March 2017. Set in 1943, it tells the story of a young man’s struggle to understand both himself and his feelings, during a period where being a typical headstrong guy in war was seen as the norm. Despite there being no combat scenes in a musical set in one of history’s largest conflicts, the focus on journalism and homosexuality in a time where such love was criminal brings a rare but fresh insight into the era.
Styled as ‘a world war two love story’, this simple premise draws in the assumption of a routine boy-meets-boy tale of finding love and happiness. The Zellnik brothers however deliver much more than a timeless template that surrounds the stereotypical love story. The underlying journeys of true self-discovery, realisation and acceptance portrayed from both Stu (Scott Hunter) and Mitch (Andy Coxon) are powerful and touching. Masculinity is an ever-present theme that reaches its peak with Hunter’s soliloquy in one of the concluding scenes on what has made him a ‘man’.
Musical Director James Cleeve captures the emotion of the characters and their internal torment perfectly, fitting in with the Zellnik brothers’ lyrical and music combinations. The music stays true to its era, complete with rapturous 1940s swing numbers and a ‘Bing Crosby’ styled ballad. Coxon gives a memorable performance in “Rememb’ring You” and Sarah Louise-Young further brings a beautiful female vocal to an otherwise male heavy cast.
Chris Cuming’s choreography features the usual bland group movements, however Chris Kiely and Hunter’s tap routine is an unexpected and mesmerising surprise. The duo’s incredible symmetry and timing is further matched when Hunter teams up with Bradley Judge for a reprisal, adding extra musicality in a dance production that is otherwise boring. The timing however is not perfect when it comes to lighting and positioning; on a number of occasions the cast and spotlights fall out of sync and end positions lead to an awkward silhouette of both face and body.
Despite the infrequent mishaps, YANK! opens up a creative and innovative look into the 1940s struggles around homosexuality and masculinity. The final scene between Hunter and Coxon highlights the importance of staying true to who you are as a person and striving to improve equality – a statement made all the more impactful in light of present day USA.
YANK! is a thematic story, combining strong vocals with excellent tap routines. Humour contrasts the emotional ambivalence between happiness and sadness, allowing a strong connection between Hunter and the viewer.
Director: James Baker; James Cleeve (Musical Director)
Producer: Ben Millerman
Book & Lyrics: David Zellnik
Music & Orchestration: Joseph Zellnik
Choreographer: Chris Cuming
Design: Victoria Hinton; Aaron J. Dootson (lighting); Chris Bogg (sound)
Cast: Scott Hunter; Andy Coxon; Chris Kiely; Sarah-Louise Young; Lee Dillon-Stuart; Kris Marc-Joseph; Benjamin Cupit; Bradley Judge; Tom Pepper; Waylon Jacobs; Mark Paterson; Scott Davies
Musicians: James Cleeve; Edward Court; David Larkin; Amy Goodwin; Claire Shaw; Jacob Phillips; Rich Burden
Images courtesy of Claire Bilyard.
Yank! plays the Charting Cross Theatre until 19 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.