Do ask, do tell
Book and Lyrics by David Zellnik
Music by Joseph Zellnik
Directed by Igor Goldin
The Gallery Players, 199 14th St., Park Slope,
Equity showcase (Thu-Sun, extended through Nov. 11th)
Review by Byrne Harrison
It’s surprising in this day and age to see a new musical set in WWII that isn’t a send-up of WWII musicals. No self-referential jokes about the sappy love songs. No eye-rolling at corny dance numbers. A real, honest-to-goodness homage, based on a love of the genre. It’s all the more surprising when the musical in question deals with a subject that would never have made it to the stage in the 1940s – a love affair between two soldiers.
Fortunately, we live in somewhat more enlightened times. Good thing, too, because it would be a pity to miss a show as lovely as David and Joseph Zellnik’s Yank! now playing at the Gallery Players in Park Slope. Yank! tells the story of Stu (Bobby Steggert), a young recruit at the end of World War II. Naïve and sensitive, Stu knows he’s different than the others in his squad, but it isn’t until his burgeoning infatuation with Mitch (Maxime de Toledo) crosses the line to something physical that he truly understands what that difference is. Rejected by Mitch and knowing that he’ll never survive at the front, Stu jumps at the chance to become a photographer for Yank! magazine - the magazine for soldiers, by soldiers. Taken under the wing of fellow “friend of Dorothy” Artie (the amazing Jeffry Denman, who also choreographs), he learns about life and, if not love, then lust. When circumstances take Stu and Artie to the Pacific front, Mitch and Stu reunite and for a brief time and their relationship flourishes. It isn’t long until their illicit affair is discovered, causing their lives and the lives of those closest to them to crumble.
It’s clear that the Zellnik brothers studied the musicals and movies of the period – there is a marvelous send-up of the patriotic movies of the time in the second act – and that comes through in the excellent songs they’ve created. Joseph Zellnik’s music evokes the feel of the period and David Zellnik’s lyrics are well suited to them, both in the comic numbers (‘Saddest Gal What Am,’ ‘Your Squad Is Your Squad,’ and ‘Click’) and the sentimental ones (‘Remembering You,’ ‘Blue Twilight,’ and ‘A Couple of Regular Guys’). In addition, the orchestrations by David Zellnik, Daniel Feyer, Josh Clayton and Rob Berman are nicely done and make good use of the six person band.
The large cast features some outstanding performances, most notably Steggert’s boy-next-door Stu; James Stover as Czechowski, the New Yorker in the squad; Nancy Anderson, who plays all the females in the show; de Toledo’s closeted Mitch; and Denman, whose arch Artie seems, at times, like a fey stereotype, until Denman shows some of the steel that Artie is made of. It’s also worth mentioning that he is an excellent dancer and choreographer and his song ‘Click’ brings the house down (in part because of a couple of lines that evoke the Larry Craig scandal).
Yank! features two theatrical conventions that seem like they could be distractions, but ultimately work rather well. First, Yank! is told in a flashback. A young gay man in San Francisco (also played by Steggert) finds Stu’s diary in a junk store. As he tells the story, he becomes Stu and the musical takes off. It returns to him at the end of the play, telling what he knows of the rest of Stu’s life (surprisingly little, which is nice as it lets the audience imagine what his life might have been). The other convention is a dream ballet in which Stu faces the consequences of the choices he’s made. This was the most worrying aspect of the show, but it worked very nicely. Featuring excellent choreography, the ballet allows the cast to show just what they are capable of as dancers. In the dream ballet, Mitch and Stu are replaced by Dream Mitch (Chad Harlow) and Dream Stu (Jonathan Day), much like the casting in the dream ballet in Oklahoma.
Tender, touching and funny, Yank! is a delightful musical, well produced by the Gallery Players. Those with an interest in WWII, especially an aspect of it that is rarely explored, should see this while they have the chance.
(Yank! also features Tyson Kaup, Daniel Shevlin, Chris Carfizzi, Todd Faulkner, Matthew Marks, Brian Mulay and musicians Daniel Feyer, Josh Johnson, Tom Piercy, Allison Seidner, Masataka Odaka and Ken Swinkin.)
Copyright 2007 by Byrne Harrison
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