Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 19 August 2017
This week marked the West End premiere of the 2010 off-Broadway musical, Yank!, which tells the true story of two men who fell in love during World War II. Since making its UK premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, Yank! has been a highly anticipated transfer as people were eager to hear the story that didn’t make the history books and it opened to staggering applause and a standing ovation.
Set during the time when homosexuality was frowned upon and defined by the development of modern psychiatry to treat the ‘illness’, this is an extremely important story to be told. It’s so powerful that whilst fighting got their country and lives, men were also fighting for their right to love. Particularly poignant just after the celebration of love seen with London Pride and also during a time when American politics is seeming to bring pain and restrictions on ‘non-conforming’ people, it’s thought-provoking to see these issues played out on stage.
The story is told through the eyes of the young Stu (Scott Hunter) who journaled his whole journey through the war. He feels that he is not a proper man and feels ashamed to not be as strong as the other men in his squad. He finds comfort in his journal which narrates the show in a truthful, emotional way and allows the audience to connect of a much more personal level. Stu becomes friends with, and eventually starts a rocky relationship with fellow soldier, Mitch (Andy Coxon) who constantly fights back that he is not a ‘fairy’. Struggling with this denial, Stu leaves the army squad and becomes a reporter for Yank! magazine.
The story is told in the style of an MGM musical, with the tradition and romanticism of Rodgers and Hammerstein. There is a stunning mix of dance and a rich, emotive score. Sarah Louise-Young is fantastic as the many female fantasy characters who lead the MGM style. Particularly entertaining is when Stu meets photographer, Artie (Chris Kiely) who he discovers through a glorious tap number ‘Click’ is also gay as he explains the ways to identify other gay men during war.
Chris Cuming’s choreography works alongside and also contrasts the beautiful solos and duets of the score perfectly, with each piece impressively and smoothly choreographed. This balance makes the piece truly engaging and adds a level of humour which is welcomed so as not to make the piece too heavy and draining. There is a perfect balance between seriousness and sweet sincerity.
Scott Hunter is faultless as Stu; rarely off stage he gives his all and touchingly shows his immense character development throughout. Starting as the weakest of the squad and eventually becoming the strongest for fighting not only the war but for his love till the very end. He is charged with emotion and its touching to see his journey play out in front of our eyes. As his love interest, Andy Coxon is tough and charismatic whilst still showing a vulnerable side. Both actors bounce off each other and have a beautiful chemistry on stage. It’s so lovely to see a male led company who work together faultlessly and create a harmonious feeling.
Yank! is touching, honest, genuine, fluid and overall a heart-wrenching look at love and tragedy.