Following a successful off-Broadway run, gay-themed World War II musical Yank! made its UK debut at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre earlier this year and comes to London just in time for post-Pride celebrations.
The classy musical tells a familiar tale of forbidden love, but this time, rather than boy-meets-girl, it’s boy-meets-boy. Set in 1943, Mid-Westerner Stu is called up to serve in the army and soon develops a secret connection with Mitch, a rugged soldier. Terrified of war, Stu takes an opportunity to escape fighting on the front-line by writing for wartime journal Yank. Months later Stu finds his way back to Mitch, but the trials of war and the homophobic attitudes of the time bear heavy on the illicit relationship.
Telling an important historical story, Yank! shines a light on the exceptional circumstances which saw gay men coming to terms with their sexuality against the backdrop of war and the testosterone-fuelled camaraderie, and vilification, that came with it. The topic is generally handled sensitively through the eyes of Stu and Mitch and paints a vivid picture of a unique time in history. But despite the rich topic, the musical struggles to engage.
The connection between Stu and Mitch happens so rapidly, it’s difficult to believe, or care, about the illicit affair. Declarations of love feel premature and the relationship is under-developed. That’s not a criticism of the performances, both Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon give strong turns and certainly make the most of what they are given to work with.
The score doesn’t help the show stand-out. Lilting melodies drift over swing, big band and torch songs, but make little impact. It’s a challenge to remember a lyric or melody by the time the curtain comes down.
But there are highlights – Chris Cuming’s tight, ambitious choreography feels fresh and exciting; a stand-out, stylised scene of interrogation in the second half gives the show some much-needed grit; and the hard-working cast doesn’t put a foot wrong.
It’s brilliant to see a new musical arrive in the West End, especially one that tells a familiar story from an unexplored perspective, but Yank! fails to make a lasting impression.
Cast: Scott Hunter, Andy Coxon, Waylon Jacobs, Bradley Judge, Benjamin Cupit, Scott Davies, Lee Dillon-Stuart, Chris Kiely, Kris Marc-Joseph, Mark Paterson, Tom Pepper, Sarah-Louise Young Book and lyrics: David Zellnik Music: Joseph Zellnik Director: James Baker Musical Director: James Cleeve Orchestrations: Joseph Zellnik Additional Orchestrations: Matt Aument Choreographer: Chris Cuming Designer: Victoria Hinton Lighting Design: Aaron J Dootson Sound Design: Chris Bogg Casting Director: Benjamin Newsome Duration: 140 mins Theatre: Charing Cross Theatre Dates: 3rd July – 19th August 2017