REVIEW: YANK! (Charing Cross Theatre)

Recently transferred to London from Manchester after an Off-Broadway run in 2010, Joseph and David Zellink’s wartime musical YANK! presents a love story which is hidden from the history books, with smooth choreography and a lead character you’ll be rooting for.

Based upon real stories of homosexual American soldiers of WWII whose stories had been forgotten of written out of history books, YANK! is told through the eyes of young soldier Stuart (Scott Hunter), with each scene correlating to an entry from his diary, which has been found by a future incarnation of Stuart in the present day. Stuart struggles through army training and coming to terms with his sexuality, and finds a forbidden and difficult love with fellow soldier Mitch (Andy Coxon), before being separated as he embarks as a reporter for Yank magazine, for which the show is named after. The audience is left wondering whether the pair will ever be together again, and fear for anyone finding out, due to homosexuality being seen as not just an illness, but a crime during this period.

Andy Coxon (Mitch) and Scott Hunter (Stu) in YANK!, credit Claire Bilyard
Mitch (Andy Coxon) and Stuart (Scott Huter) Photo: Claire Bilyard

Scott Hunter’s performance as Stu is mesmerising, ably leading us through the fragments of this period of his life, and subtly showing his character growth from shy, awkward teen to a much more confident man. Chris Kiely’s performance as Artie, Stu’s mentor of sorts, is also a standout, performing a fabulous tap number (‘Click’) which brings ‘Book of Mormon’ to mind, and his nuances and little head bobs and turns towards the audience are fantastic. Sarah-Louise Young also does brilliantly playing the female roles, from lesbian soldier Louise to the sweethearts on the radio, singing wartime songs to boost morale.

The set is simple, utilising cargo boxes as main set pieces, from seats to tables and barricades, and Chris Cumin’s choreography is smooth and precise, making use of the small space with some brilliant formations throughout. Of course, the tap number ‘Click’ must be commended again. The final scenes showing interrogations and the frontline are well directed, displayed in short, sharp fragments accompanied by Aaron J. Dootson’s excellent lighting comprising of flashing lights and shadows. Echoes of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ are played in the background, and the scene dissolves into a nightmare, a direct contrast to the love felt throughout the production so far. Coupled with the heat of the theatre, an incredibly tense atmosphere was formed, much welcome and unexpected for a musical which thus far had been quite peppy and very funny.

Chris Kiely (Artie) and Sara-Louise Young (Louise) in YANK!, credit Claire Bilyard
Artie (Chris Kiely) and Louise (Sarah-Louise Young) Photo: Clair Bilyard

Despite the serious subject matter the show is very funny, including a hilarious scene with the male Steno girls talking like and naming themselves after Gone With the Wind characters. Songs are also catchy, with ‘Your Squad is Your Squad’ playing in my head since I stepped outside of the theatre. Joseph and David Zellink both comment that the show is the ‘musical Rodgers and Hammerstein never wrote’, and it is easy to see the influences the duo had on this show, as well as other musicals. But the show stands very well independently, and it is certainly not a pastiche.

‘YANK!’ is a show which, though historically set, is a very modern tale about first love and finding your way, as well as celebrating who you are. Running at the Charing Cross Theatre until 19th August, it’s a definite recommendation.

I was given a press ticket for this show, but all thoughts are my own.

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