Telling the true story of two men in World War 1 that fall in love, this new production is a poignant piece of musical theatre about what it means to be a man.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Premiering Off-Broadway in 2010, the show received 10 Drama Desk nominations, including best musical and best score. Opening for the first time in Europe at the Hope Mill Theatre, Yank! is the story of two young male soldiers that fall in love during the war.
The play is set during the time when the notion of homosexuality in America was being defined by the development of modern psychiatry. It’s a powerful story that is important to be told, whilst men were fighting for their lives at war, they were also fighting for their freedom. It’s thought-provoking to watch the struggles they have to fight against the system in order to be able to love.
Young soldier Stu (Scott Hunter) is finding the war a lot harder than anticipated. He isn’t as strong as the other men, and feels like he has failed as a man. Whilst getting teased and tormented by the other soldiers, he finds comfort in his journal. His diary entries narrate the show, and as an audience we are able to delve into his deepest thoughts. He strikes a friendship with fellow soldier Mitch (Barnaby Hughes) when then transpires into love as they find themselves kissing. Their love story is rocky, as Mitch fights back, denying he isn’t ‘a fruit’ or ‘a fairy’. Struggling with his heartbreak, Stu decided to leave the army squad to become a reporter for Yank! Magazine, but returns and is reunited with Mitch when covering a story on his squad.
It’s an emotive narrative that is told through the style of an MGM musical, with influences of Rogers and Hammerstein, the story is told through theatrical dance accompanied by a rich score. When Stu meets photographer Artie (Chris Kelly) in a bar, he soon realises he is also gay which is discovered through an excellently crafted tap number ‘Click’, in which Artie shows Stu the secret way the guys would find out if the other were gay – the code they would tap on the floor.
Creating light and shade in the production, the balance of the impressively choreographed musical numbers with the beautifully sombre duets, creates an engaging piece of theatre. The language is poetic, with interjections of quick-witted humour from the army squad – whose distinct personalities bring warmth to the piece.
There are some truly touching moments between Stu and Mitch as their love unravels. James Baker’s direction is fluid and honest, creating a genuine portrayal of love against all odds. When speaking to James before the opening of the show, he said: “This story is important because it inclines us to not take our finger off the pulse, to keep moving forward and to give birth to a generation that truly does love freely at no cost and that is what this musical can do.”
Yank! The Musical is heart-warming, heart-aching and everything in-between.