Telling the true story of two men in World War 2 that fall in love, Yank! is a poignant piece of musical theatre about what it means to be a man, and being able to love freely. The European Premiere of the production opened at the Hope Mill Theatre last night in Manchester.
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), and his friendship that transpires into love and 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 decides to leave the army squad to become a reporter for Yank! magazine.
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 identify other gay men in the war – which is a 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.
Leading the cast, Scott Hunter barely leaves the stage as the young soldier Stu who is struggling with his identity. His performance is charged with emotion as he goes on a journey to discover who he really is and what he really feels. Hunter’s character progression through the show is compelling to watch, opening the show as the weakest soldier, he becomes the strongest as he doesn’t give up in his fight to love. Opposite him, Barnaby Hughes gives a moving performance as Mitch as he displays his tough and charismatic nature, but it is his glimpses of vulnerability that draw the audience to his character.
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
Yank! The Musical is heart-warming, heart-aching and everything in-between.
On until the 8th of April, tickets can be found here.