Music by Joseph Zellnik, book and lyrics David Zellnik
Hope Mill Theatre Company
09 March 2017 to 08 April 2017
Furthering its mission to give little-known American musicals an airing this side of the Atlantic, Hope Mill’s latest arrives via an Off-Broadway production and a couple of other out of town stagings that seem to have been highly-praised. There have apparently been plans for a Broadway itself run but so far it hasn’t happened and the show has been kicking around for 12 years or so now without making it to the big time…
It’s a World War II gay love story, loosely based around real events. Mid-Westerner Stu, is called up in 1943 and becomes a reporter for Yank Magazine, a popular illustrated journal for servicemen. He is sent on various assignments and introduced to the gay scene by Artie, a photographer for the magazine.
It’s about the life of the soldiers, the camaraderie and, above all, the love that develops between Stu and fellow soldier Mitch, the latter the squad’s handsome hunk. At first it’s Stu who is the bashful one but he eventually is also the one who proves true to his nature as he undergoes the inevitable gay bashing and then official persecution.
Book, lyrics and score are by brothers David and Joseph Zellnik who have created a piece that’s musically something of a pastiche of stage shows and films of the period, something of Andrew Sisters crossed with Rogers and Hammerstein and also reminiscent of the sort of pastiche treatment Sondheim has used in shows such as Company and Follies.
It’s a 12-strong cast and they are strong. Barnaby Hughes as Mitch, Chris Kiely as Artie and Sarah-Louise Young as various females, including several night club singers, are all good. But the show is largely on the shoulders of Scott Hunter as Stu and the role could hardly be better cast, he’s boyishly cute, alert, right under the skin of the role and can sing and dance beyond present requirements.
It’s neatly staged by director James Baker on a rather restricted space which only matters when it comes to the, extremely camp, dance numbers and consequently looks best in the more intimate moments.
Sound design is excellent, very precise and clear and not too loud for a change. There’s a punchy, unseen, seven-piece band under MD James Cleeve and overall, performance-wise and technically, it’s a very impressive piece of work, some considerable way beyond what one would expect from a fringe venue.
By the more than somewhat clichéd conclusion however – there’s nothing barrier-breaking anywhere here - it’s pretty clear why this is another that hasn’t made it to the Great White Way.
Despite its shortcomings, it will probably be a hit with the gay community, it got an instant, full house, standing ovation on press night. But the book is predictable and clunky, the score is tuneful but not memorable and the subject matter is unlikely to appeal to a wide enough section of the general public to make it a commercial success. Nice try though, definitely worth a punt and yet another reason to wish Hope Mill continued success.
Reviewer: Alan Hulme