Pros: A powerful, absorbing story told with insight and sensitivity.
Cons: The songs are frankly a distraction and the show could have done without the froth of a musical score.
Two decades into the twenty-first century it’s difficult to imagine that a loving relationship between consenting adults could be ruled illegal; just because the participants both happen to be men. Moreover, how could such a relationship possibly survive in the Army at the height of the Second World War? This is the conundrum presented by Yank! at the excellent Charing Cross Theatre.
The play tells the story of Stu and Mitch, who fall in love while enlisted in the US Army. Their platoon is typically a close knit unit bossed by the manly, straighter than straight Tennessee, with wingmen Rotelli, Czechowski, India and Cohen. Stu and Mitch can barely resist their feelings, while deep down fearing they can never have a proper relationship. Stu is subsequently given the opportunity to work for the US serviceman journal Yank; a cushy number away from the battlefront for certain, but also an excuse to get away from Mitch and the passion that will, sooner or later become obvious to the rest of the platoon.
Whilst being a well-constructed piece, the songs feel superfluous and get in the way of the plot. The choreography is unnecessarily camp and almost sends the story up. I hope this wasn’t intentional as it ruins the dramatic tension that slowly builds until the next song knocks it back to square one. Ordinarily, if you took the songs away from a musical there would be no show. However, Yank! is the rarest of exceptions; a show that would be better without the songs. The narrative is so strong it doesn’t require a musical accompaniment; so why not let the story stand alone as a play? In a year marking the 50th anniversary since the legalisation of homosexuality, what better time to remember the past and mark how far society has progressed.
Notwithstanding this gripe, the show was well produced and made the most of a dynamic sound system at the Charing Cross Theatre. It also benefits from an excellent cast, particularly Scott Hunter as Stu, Andy Coxon as Mitch and Sarah-Louise Young; the only lady in the cast who doubled in a number of roles including a great turn as forces’ sweetheart Louise. But the real star was the story, which takes a number of emotional twists along the way. But are you curious enough to find out what happens in the end?
Book and Lyrics: David Zellnik
Music: Joseph Zellnik
Director: James Baker
Musical Director: James Cleeve
Choreographer: Chris Cuming
Producers: Aria Entertainment, Hope Mill Theatre, Ben Millerman, Jim Kierstead and Guy James
Box Office: 08444 930 650
Booking Link: http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/yank-a-wwii-love-story
Booking until: 19 August 2017