Photo: Carol Rosegg
While cutting-edge musicals are wonderful (all hail Sondheim!), there's something particularly lovely about traditional musicals covering new ground. Take, for example, the excellent Yank! (finishing its run this weekend at the York Theatre Company), which tells the story of a Stu, a young soldier in World War II who falls in love with one of his squadmates. Using a traditional structure and sound, the brothers Zellnik (music, Joseph; book and lyrics, David) and director Igor Goldin skillfully combine an evocative 1940s-esque score, a romantic storyline, energetic tap numbers and a beautiful ballet, cheerfully stereotypical supporting characters (the soldier from Brooklyn, the Italian-American soldier, etc), life and death issues, and gay history 101 to create a musical that is moving, funny, entertaining, sad, sweet, and meaningful. Bobby Steggert gives a superb performance as Stu. The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Jeffrey Denman, who brings depth to what could have been a one-dimensional character (and also provides the excellent choreography). While I hope this show has the long future it deserves, I was sad to read in Bloomberg News that the producers are holding out for a Broadway run. I totally understand their thinking; they need to maximize their chances of making a profit. But Yank! works perfectly in an intimate theatre. It's a small, emotional story, and unmiked voices suit it well (of course, unmiked voices suit everything well, but that's another story). What a pity that Off-Broadway is no longer an option for most musicals.
Online there has been much discussion about Yank! While the buzz is generally extremely positive, there have been some complaints and questions. For example, some people ask if the show needs the dream ballet. I don't know that it needs it, but the choreography is lovely, and I really enjoyed the same-sex romance of it. Second: Is the frame needed? I think the frame is important for one main reason: without it, the show ends on a sad, lonely note. With it, there's a sense of things getting better over time. (On the other hand, that journal would have gotten Mitch in trouble along with Stu and Artie, so its use within the show needs work.) Third: Is the show too preachy? I didn't find it so. I think that people in those circumstances would indeed talk overtly about gay rights, and I found their conversations believable. Forth: Were the men in the steno pool too aggressively fey? I thought so. Yes, there were fey men around in those days, but these performances occasionally cross the line into caricatures.