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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yank!

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.

[spoilers below]

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.

1 comment:

Rodney said...

Good review. I found the discussion about the steno pool guys interesting. I get why people (including you) were put off by it. I was initially really annoyed with the sterotype of Stu not being able to hold a rifle. It was so sterotypical. But I think it is an interesting conceit (with obvious limitations) that the entire world they have created is based on stereotypes. From the guys in the company to the notion that gay men can't actually have long term relationships to the fact that they sleep around with multiple partners. One of the things I found so touching was that in this world of stereotypes, real humans with real human emotions emerged. That was one limitation of the steno pool guys, they never got to be real people. I found myself being put off and won over repeatedly in the first act.

The one thing that I did find wrong was that in 1943 the gay guys would refer to each other as Friends of Dorothy. The movie had only been out for 4 years at this point and was not well-received at that point. I would imagine the FOD moniker came much later. Seems more like a 60's thing to me. I bristled when I heard it and thought it was lazy and false. A small quibble though.