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By Josie Montano & Robert McLachlan

There was a lot to enjoy about the musical production Yank! A WWII Love Story at the Brisbane Powerhouse. This production was staged as part of the MELT festival, now in it’s fifth year. MELT is an inclusive platform honouring Brisbane’s wonderfully diverse Queer population through spectacularly entertaining events, performances and discussions. The festival celebrates LGBTQI+ arts and culture as well as promotes visibility within the community. Presented by Understudy Productions in partnership with the Brisbane Powerhouse, this musical ran at the Visy theatre for a total of 10 performances.

It is a two hour show with a 20 minute intermission and the theatre was packed with eager audience members keen to see this musical which was created in 2005 but is premiering only now in Australia. With book and lyrics by David Zellnik and his brother Joseph, Yank! “tells the story of Stu, a scared Midwestern kid who gets drafted for World War II in 1943, and becomes a photographer for Yank Magazine, the journal 'for and by the servicemen.’ It is based on the true hidden history of gay soldiers during this iconic twentieth century conflict. The score is reminiscent of 1940’s America and explores the issues of manhood and homosexuality during the turbulent times of World War II. It is about love, sex, expectations and the struggle to survive.

Ian Good directed and Dan Venz choreographed to make this an absorbing and highly entertaining production. The Visy Theatre is a challenging space in which to work but the actors and crew did their best to include the audience seated on 3 sides of the stage both below and above the players. Our view was literally front and centre, prime seats right in front of the stage therefore we experienced all the nuances and emotional turmoil that was presented. This musical presents a challenge for the leads as it has emotional depths to plumb, forties style songs to sing and challenging dancing and blocking to achieve. Some of the cast even had a tap dance to do which went down well with the audience and we found particularly entertaining. We were told there was a seven piece live band, led by musical director Trevor Jones accompanying the 12 performers on stage but unfortunately, due to the nature of the Visy Theatre, we were unable to catch even a glimpse of this integral part of the show and seemingly unacknowledged throughout.

Andy Johnston and Alex Gibson-Giorgio gave us emotionally charged performances and sang admirably. Naomi Price, as the only woman in the cast had a busy time of it and played several different characters well. Eli Cooper played the flamboyant “Artie” with verve and respect and did justice to some difficult and well executed dance routines as well.

There was a lot to like about this production of Yank! which was first performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2005 when it was nominated for 7 Drama Desk awards. It was billed as “the musical Rodgers and Hammerstein never wrote.” Our thanks go to Understudy Productions and Brisbane Powerhouse for giving Brisbane audiences the chance to experience this unique and insightful musical for the first time. It is to be hoped that Australians elsewhere will also have the opportunity to see this first hand. If so, it comes highly recommended for all audiences.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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