YANK! A World War II Love Story

YANK! A World War II Love Story

Charing Cross Theatre, London, U.K., July 3, 2017

Review by Thanasis Kalantzis for Cabaret Scenes

Andy Coxon (L) & Scott Hunter

An important story is being told in a vault under a train station in London. It’s about two men falling in love under the most strenuous and unfitting circumstances. YANK! A World War II Love Story created by the Zellnik brothers (music by Joseph and book and lyrics by David) was first produced Off-Broadway in 2010 (with previous productions in 2005, 2007 and 2008 at other theaters). With seven Drama Desk nominations later (as well as Best Musical nominations from the Outer Critics Circle and runs around the U.S.) in March 2017 it finally made its European premiere at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, before moving to its new home at the Charing Cross Theatre in London—a fittingly atmospheric venue for this World War II musical drama.  

A diary is discovered in a musty second-hand bookstore in San Francisco. It contains the war-time memories of private Stu (Scott Hunter), a sensitive 19-year-old man who’s “not like the other guys.” His writings begin in November 1943 when he finds himself on the front. Among the members of his squad is Mitch (Andy Coxon), a confident, good-looking man in his early twenties who takes Stu under his wing. Despite the world being on fire and falling apart around them, the two fall in love. In the piercingly emotional “You, You” that closes the first act, Mitch sings his love for Stu (“tonight there is no war, just the sky…”), even if he doesn’t understand his feelings, while in “A Couple of Regular Guys,” beautifully sung by the protagonists, the “two kids from states that don’t touch” make plans to live together after the war is over.

Eventually, Stu’s writing abilities are discovered by Artie (Chris Kiely), another man “light in the loafers” and a photographer for the WWII army weekly magazine Yank. He convinces Stu to follow him as a war reporter for the magazine, separating the two lovers. When they meet again, Stu tells Mitch of his plans to publish his memoir, but the conflicted Mitch hates the idea—their love is wrong. In “Just True” Stu tries to make Mitch understand that their love is not right or wrong, just true. 

In the end, Stu’s journal and “degenerate” tendencies are discovered by the army and he is given the choice between military prison or returning to the front. He chooses the latter and miraculously escapes death. When the war is over he looks for Mitch and finds him in a hospital in Hawaii, but there is no happy ending there. Spoiler alert: Mitch, bowing to social and parental pressure, is already married to a woman. The last thing we hear about him is that he died in 1962 from a heart attack. Others said from alcoholism.

In their own words, the Zellnik brothers have created the “Rodgers and Hammerstein show they never wrote.” With the right blend of drama and humor, tap dancing, singing, and well thought-out and flowing story line, YANK! is an outstanding production. The book and lyrics, vividly describing every delicate feeling, every struggle, have been treated thoughtfully and respectfully by director James Baker. Lighting and sound designers (Aaron J. Dootson and Chris Bogg, respectively) have done a great job in encapsulating the spirit of the 1940s, while the band of seven, under musical director James Cleeve, artfully executed the truly inspired score. Amazing singers in their own right, Hunter and Coxon have been wisely selected as the compelling protagonists, as has the rest of the cast that frames them. The scenes of the three typists embodying characters from Gone with the Wind is one of the funniest I have ever witnessed. Special mention needs to go to an exquisite Sarah-Louise Young who plays every woman in the show (mother, pin-up girl, nurse, lesbian army officer) with the natural ease of a chameleon.

The transfer of YANK! Could not have come at a better time as the U.K. celebrates 50 years of partial decriminalization of homosexuality—the act that recognized homosexuals’ right to love freely. It also comes at the time when the leader of the free world single-handedly decided that transsexuals in the U.S. military are no longer allowed to serve the country they love and are prepared to die for.   

A unique experience and a definite must-see for the serious theater-goer, this sensational and highly relevant piece of theater runs through August 19.

Thanasis Kalantzis

Thanasis started reviewing for Cabaret Scenes in 2012. He started by reviewing primarily jazz and cabaret artists visiting from the U.S., but these days, he concentrates on British talent. Recently, he added covering musical theater to his duties. He was born in the heart of rural Greece in 1967. He studied Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, worked as an excavator in the prehistoric town of Akrotiri, Santorini, and then spent two years on the beautiful island of Crete excavating a Roman village, among other sites. In 1991 he moved to London to study for his MA in Archaeology at University College London thinking that, upon completion, he’d return to Greece and continue with his excavation work. Nevertheless, he gave this amazingly diverse city a go, and started working with various companies, including the Horniman Museum, Sotheby’s and, most recently, the Big Lottery Fund, the organization that allocates lottery funds to arts and charities. His been in London for 26 years, and is happily married to his husband and runs a small, successful business.