“Some stories didn’t make it in to the history books” is the tagline for Charing Cross Theatre’s newest production and it couldn’t be truer. Yank!, directed by James Baker, follows the story of Stu (Scott Hunter) and Mitch (Andy Coxon) two American service men who are fighting not only in World War II but also against society’s intrinsic homophobia that prevents their love. Joseph and David Zellnik’s new production, which opened at the West End after a successful run at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester earlier this year, could not have transferred at better time as the West End is still celebrating London Pride weekend.
By opening with a raw monologue delivered by the unequivocally talented Hunter, it’s clear from the onset that Yank! is going to be refreshingly different from traditional West End musicals with their glamourous costumes and flashy routines. The first number is an incredibly moving song by Coxon, who must be commended for effortlessly showing Mitch’s conflict between his own sexuality and society as a ‘straight gay’.
At times the dialogue seems slightly clichéd, particularly during an otherwise touching moment between Stu and Mitch on a sleeper train bunker bed, but this fades as the musical moves into the second act and takes a darker turn. It’s in this second act that we really see why Hunter was cast in the role of Stu, as he effortlessly portrays all the fear and indignation at the unfairness of his situation – leaving very few dry eyes in the audience.
Sarah-Louise Young stands out (and not just because she’s the only female member of the cast) by transporting us musically to the 1940s. The show is interspersed with the soldiers listening to the radio in which we get to hear the sultry and beautiful voice of Young singing love songs such as ‘My Soldier’, ‘Blue Twilight’ and ‘Saddest Gal What Am’.
Although not all of the score is memorable, the choreography is simple but effective suiting the intimate setting that is Charing Cross Theatre. Among the memorable songs is ‘Click’, which includes an excellent tap number by Chris Kiely and Hunter, used to represent the creative and energetic way one explores their sexuality. Kiely as Artie Goldberg, Stu’s part time lover and photographer, captures the right balance of camp charm without being over the top or cartoonish.
It might be easy to think that Stu and Mitch’s story is one of those that is just for the history books. That since 1943 society has progressed and service people are able to express and act on their sexuality within a community that accepts them. That the problems faced by these two men are no longer. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems ludicrous that when Yank first opened in New York in 2005, being gay was not allowed in the American military – only in 2011 was the American army’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy which prevented LGBT+ people serving in the military, officially ended, some 68 years after Yank was set. That’s why it’s so important that stories like those of Mitch and Stu and others like them are continued to be told on stage.
Yank! is playing Charing Cross Theatre until August 19.
Photo: Anthony Robling