Take a wonderfully heartbreaking love story and some classy music and you end up with Yank! that really packs a punch emotionally.
Coming fast on the heels of the Pride parade in London, it seems even more poignant to watch Yank! as a reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have to go in order to treat members of the LGBT community properly and without discrimination.
James Baker’s production tells the story of Stu, an awkward youngster who enlists in the army feeling uncomfortable and isolated from those who have joined up with him. But things begins to change when he meets Mitch, a fellow soldier and oozing in charisma and popularity and Artie, who recognises Stu for who is from the beginning. Soon Stu and Mitch are drawn into a dangerous game of love that could destroy both their lives.
What makes this a powerful story to watch unfold on stage is the contrast between the two central characters of Stu and Mitch. While Stu initially comes across as vulnerable and not suited for the army, later when he is interrogated he displays an inner strength and bravery that reveals how far he has come. In contrast to this, Mitch while on the surface is charming and popular – he is always restrained and reluctant to admit to anything that would destroy his reputation and career, always in conflict with his heart and his head. Everything about them as a couple is believable and never forced – things develop nicely thanks to David Zellnik’s book, which is by turns tender and brutal.
While at the heart of the story is essentially a love story, it is also about the different bonds between men, prejudice and friendship told while giving an insight into army life that knows exactly how to hit the audience’s heart.
This is something that follows through the wonderful music and lyrics by Joseph and David Zellnik that reflects not only the spirit of era but also continues to push the story forward effectively – particularly during the sharp ‘Get it, Got it, Good’ the poignant ‘You, You’ and the emotional ‘Just True’. Throughout the combination of ballads and uptempo numbers really highlight the importance of what all of the characters experience as well as being blunt lyrically exposing emotions to full effect.
Aaron J. Dootson’s beautiful lighting also shows off Mitch and Stu’s tender moments wonderfully, particularly during the moment in which they dance together on the beach – I defy anyone to find a more romantic moment in a musical.
Meanwhile, all of the performances are stunning but none more so than Scott Hunter as Stu – whose character really blossoms in front of you and is delivered with such grace that the audience is able to identify with the character immediately. Andy Coxon as Mitch delivers a performance that conveys the way in which his character is torn between his heart and head that the audience can really understand his dilemma and feel for the situation he is in. The rest of the squad also create a genuine bond on stage to really engage the audience.
Powerful, tender and pulsating with energy and emotion, Yank! more than proves that it deserves this London run for a wider audience to enjoy it because once you do see it you will not forget it. Mesmerising and memorable piece of theatre.