Music by Joseph Zellnik
Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik
Understudy Productions’, YANK! The musical opened at Brisbane Powerhouse to a wondrous standing ovation and a thrilling performance. The historic, World War II forbidden love story is an emotional and brilliantly performed ride from beginning to end. The play is based on the true concealed story of young gay soldiers being drafted into the Second World War. The production explores the characters finding themselves as the world fails to stand with them.
Andy Johnston embodies the youngest and most naive soldier, Stu. His performance is unforgettable as he expresses himself in his journal his mother presented to him so he would not forget his experiences. To Stu’s surprise he soon discovers his raw love for one of the older soldier’s, Mitch, personified by the dashingly talented Alex Gibson-Giorgio.
Alex gives his whole heart to his character, Mitch and has a wonderful singing voice to match as the ‘toughest’ guy in the company. Not so subtly, Mitch hits on Stu in the beginning. Alex’s performance as Mitch is beautiful and painful to witness as he wrestles with himself by loving Stu but knowing he won’t be accepted in the military if he pursues it further. The bond between Andy and Alex on stage is so sweet and passionate and they argue like an old married couple, which is perfect for this show. This is personified as they perform the incredible musical number, ‘You, You.’
Andy portrays Stu’s clumsiness and fear of facing ‘the front line’ of war. He soon finds ‘Yank’ magazine and becomes a writer after he meets the sassy photographer, Artie played by the hilariously, camp Eli Cooper. One of the highlights of the show is the tap number; ‘Click’ that Stu and Artie perform together when he convinces him to join the publication, ‘Yank.’ It is the most feel-good and catchy song in the production and their taps are clean and tight as they become close pals.
Stu undergoes a plethora of emotions throughout the course of the show and puts the perfectly shy boy he once was behind him. He learns the hard way about the struggles the gay community faced especially during the war when being their true selves wasn’t accepted at all. Andy portrays this feeling in the most heartbreaking and soul-crushing scene of the play as the authorities interrogate and torture him into revealing the secrets of his journal and they demand to know the names of all the homosexuals in his company. That moment is the hardest to watch and Andy should win all of the awards for his immense anguish that he manifests as his identity is being stripped from his core.
Naomi Price is a star in this production as she embodies an array of women that sing for the U.S Army as entertainment and belts her heart out singing the most glorious 1940s inspired ballads. Most importantly she plays the pivotal role of Louise, the closeted military superior. Naomi is a force to be reckoned with and creates necessary noise as Louise when she forcefully explains to Stu in the song ‘Get it, Got it, Good’, that he can’t be writing down his feelings or reporting on stories of the gay men in the military. As a lesbian, Louise had attempted to do this in the past and was advised it wasn’t what was done, trying to save Stu from doing the same.
This tale features an incredible host of ensemble members, that all have defined fleshed out characters, which are crafted and performed to perfection. The wonderful trio of Matt Young, Jared Mifsud and Joel O’Brien transform into sassy, funny, flamboyant war stenographers. They steal the scene as they introduce Stu into a fluffier side of life as they brilliantly pretend to be the characters from ‘Gone with the wind.’ They teach him about how to subtley communicate that you are gay, by saying you are ‘a friend of Dorothy.’ In addition the incredible Casey Martin is an astounding actor and personifies the Professor so effortlessly.
The Charlie Company of young soldiers all have diverse personalities that shine through beautifully. Lachlan Griffith plays the Italian, Rotelli, he stays in character brilliantly and has several well-timed comical moments throughout the show. Callum Slater embodies Cohen and illustrates his charismatic nature entirely predominantly in the song ‘Polishing Shoes.’ Jarrod Moore is a versatile performer and he finds the joy, fight, right and wrong in his character, Tenesse. This is especially true at the point in the show where he suspects Stu and Mitch are more than just pals and blatantly hands Stu’s journal into the militant leaders. Lastly Czechowski is characterised by Henry Kafoa and is the playful jokester of the crew. He brings the group together especially in the song ‘Betty’, he is hilarious and a standout entertainer.
A major heartbeat of this production was the dance numbers, with natural, thematic choreography by Dan Venz. The show commenced with the big musical number ‘Yank’ when all of the soldiers were meeting for the first time. The execution and marching movement was on point and really set up the show in a vivid representation of what was about to unfold. The toe-tapping ‘Your squad is your squad’ number brings forth the camaraderie of the men. It is such a joyous scene with effortless brotherly love expressed through dance. Of course the inventive and intricate tap number ‘Click’ mentioned earlier was a lot of fun and made the audience rejoice.
The musical as a whole is very well-written by David Zellnik and pieced together with a gorgeous flow, especially the strikingly performed musical numbers. Ian Good’s direction makes a major mark on the show, especially during the war scene as Stu faces the ‘front line’ of battle for the first time. The use of the circle set piece as a movie screen first and then used as a ‘window into the eye of the soldier’ to showcase the brutality of war; in addition to the use of lighting in that sequence was brillant.
Although this show deals with tough subject matter in particular, war and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, it helps you discover how brave people are in times of crisis and expressing to the world who you really are. See the show for the story and stay for the absolute talent.
Book your tickets to Understudy Productions incredible piece, YANK! The musical as part of the MELT Festival only at The Powerhouse until Sunday 14 July!
Photo Credit – Supplied