YANK! OFF-BROADWAY REVIEW
Reviewed by Sasha Pensanti
When you step into the York Theatre on East 54th Street, it's nothing much at first. It looks like the show might be black box, a cave-like space without much going on in it. But as the show begins, you find yourself transported back in time to World War II. The sounds of the forties fill your ears. The songs are new and written specifically for this show, but you wouldn't know it. They are perfect representations of a time gone by.
Bobby Steggert starts the show dressed as a collegiate from our time period. He tells the audience of a journal he’s stumbled upon in an old junk shop, and then our story begins. Stu (Steggert) is a young man in search of himself. He's joined the army at the age of 18 and has no real knowledge of the world or what life will bring him. He's taken under the wing of Artie (Jeffry Denman of White Christmas), a dynamically fruity journalist for the army magazine YANK!. It's only after joining him on the magazine staff that Stu begins to experiment and discover who he really is and begin to accept himself.
Geoff Josselson, the casting director for YANK! has put together the perfect cast of slightly misfit soldiers who march their way into your heart from their first moments on stage. Everyone did great work in their respectively unique roles, but as with every cast there were standouts. Ivan Hernandez (Mitch) plays Stu’s forbidden love interest and could not be more of the typical 1940s man if he tried. He’s that classically good-looking guy, befitting the nicknames, Hollywood give to his character by the other guys in his platoon. He’s got a voice as smooth as butter that makes it hard for anyone not to fall in love with him, let alone our young, inexperienced soldier, Stu.
I expected the show to be good, especially since I had seen (and quite enjoyed) Bobby Steggert in his two previous shows, but to say the he exceeded my expectations would be a gross understatement. He more than exceeded them; he blew them out of the water. Having heard him sing, I knew he had chops and an enjoyable voice, but something changed between his time in Ragtime and now. Maybe it’s the style of the songs in the show, or maybe he’s been working with a coach, but any flubs and vocal slip ups that may have been present when he was playing Younger Brother are gone. His voice perfectly fit every song he sang with an amount of control that really speaks of the leading man that he is. He surprised me with his dance ability, proving himself a real triple threat. He’s definitely a young actor to watch for in the future. He was one hundred percent believable as Stu; engaging and heartfelt. He made the audience feel for him, and more than that we wanted him to succeed in gaining the love he so desperately sought.
YANK! is the don’t ask, don’t tell story of the homosexual members of the army who want to be respected equally in the army as they do in the rest of their life endeavors. They endure ridicule and physical torment. They are forced to hide in the shadows, believing as one character in the show said, that their love is only for a moment, it can never last. It is a struggle and an uphill battle that is not yet finished, but YANK! is a piece of that, helping them push it over the edge.
The songs are catchy, infectious even, and the dance numbers were fun and charming. They stood for something in this show. It wasn’t just dance for the sake of dance. It if was tap, the clicks stood for something, and ballet is real, true love that only comes around once in a lifetime. I must say, the ballet number did feel a bit out of place at the start, but only because of the size of the space and the way that the dancers were required to move with one another around it. If/when this show moves to a bigger space, that number will slide perfectly in with the rest of the scenes.
If you think you have to be Spanish to understand In the Heights, you have to be African American to understand The Color Purple and you have to be gay to understand YANK! you’re wrong. YANK! is a love story for the ages that is accessible to all walks of life. Every type of person can walk out of that theatre feeling the love that Stu felt and wanting him to be allowed to have it.
I would happily make my way across town to see this outstanding cast again. They should all be applauded for their work, and the writers should be very proud of what they are putting out there. YANK! the musical comes to New York at a perfect time. A show like this may not have been accepted or even popular in past years, but the time is ripe and I believe this show will have a long, fruitful run.
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