‘YANK! A WWII Love Story’ // Understudy Productions

‘YANK! A WWII Love Story’ was compelling. 

From the producers of ‘Bare’, ‘A Very Naughty Christmas’, and ‘Sweet Charity’ comes one of Brisbane’s stand out musicals of 2019, ‘YANK! A WWII Love Story’. Presented by Understudy Productions at Brisbane Powerhouse, this necessary story of self-acceptance is explored in a rendition that was deeply satisfying. 

Labelled a World War II love story, this exploration of the struggles of gay soldiers in a world of conflict delves deeper than boy meets boy. Throughout the show, it becomes apparent that the true didactic message is that of learning to love oneself. In a world where to be gay is a crime and to kill is necessary, one young man has to come to terms with who and what he is, and take the challenging path to love and accept himself. 

With a stellar line-up of professional Australian performers and an unstoppable 7-piece live band, director Ian Good has taken every opportunity to inject a sense of realness and truth into this production. Unapologetic expressions of physical love and air cutting beats of silence were aplenty. With several show-stopping dance numbers, it was choreographer Dan Venz’s inclusion of incidental dance sequences that added emotional layers to the performance.

Lighting, designed by Wesley Bluff, utilised moving headlights to transition scenes and carry the audience through the shifts in time. Bluff used contrasting tones and colours, which heightened the mood and created beautiful split scenes. Unfortunately, the sound, designed by Ben Murray, fell victim to faulty microphones that were unable to hold out for the entire performance. As a result, the ever-fabulous Eli Cooper, in his portrayal of Artie, was left mic-less throughout his solo number. Fortunately, Cooper’s stagecraft and professionalism allowed this to be masked as effectively as possible.

Dropping jaws before she even began to sing, Naomi Price portrayed a variety of women by utilising her impressive knack for accents and even providing each new character a unique walk. Price’s vocals were unsurprisingly stellar, incorporating character-specific qualities to the different songs. In one breath, she portrayed a Southern woman with a country twang in her song, and in another, she embraced a New Jersey dialect. For an actress with such a powerful stage presence, Price was able to bring an air of anonymity to her roles and never stole focus from the story at hand.

In the leading role of Stu, Andy Johnston presented a young man lost; in a world of chaos, and within himself. Johnston delivered several tear-jerking lines as he realised the crux of the storyline, and with the most beautiful “ugly-cry” there is, struck a chord in the heart of every audience member. 

As love interest Mitch, Alex Gibson-Giorgio performed his role strategically and intriguingly. Regarded as “passing” by other characters, Mitch was presented as masculine, and therefore easily accepted as heterosexual. He was a man clearly tormented by his sexuality, whose hard exterior allowed him to weather the storm of controversy when the army began hunting down homosexual soldiers. However, Mitch’s gender expression, or at least how he tried to express it, also caused him to lose his ability to truly connect with his own emotions. Gibson-Giorgio’s performance highlighted the disconnect and dysphoria in Mitch’s gender expression perfectly. Lines that came at the end of his deeply emotional moments were delivered in a cold and distant voice, and in moments when his facial expressions began to show true feelings, he would switch and return to his conservative outer shell. A challenging feat, heart-breaking to watch, and deeply honest. 

In contrasting roles, Jarrod Moore played the straight and narrow Tenesse and, as mentioned earlier, Eli Cooper was the flamboyant and boisterous Artie. Together they balanced the cast. The polarity of these two roles, and how they were embodied, created a necessary undertone that questioned the performance of gender. Both delivered solid vocal work, and Cooper’s dance numbers were the highlight of the evening. 

Completing the team were Matt Young, Callum Slater, Casey Martin, Henry Kafoa, Jared Mifsud, Joel O’Brien, and Lachlan Griffith. Together the gentlemen danced with unity and strength; supported by cleverly crafted choreography that paid homage to the era perfectly. One of the takeaway aspects of the show and the component that left audiences sighing contently was the deeply satisfying harmonies this collective created and shared. The show’s company sang, danced and acted with a united front, which was symbolic of the overall take-home message, and which further cemented the story in the minds of audience-goers.

Sharing untold stories is an important venture, in a modern globalised world. Even more significant is the ability to teach self-love simultaneously. ‘YANK! A WWII Love Story’ succeeded in both domains, and audiences were clearly moved by the bravery of the characters and the respect with which the cast and crew honoured those whose lives inspired this tale. 

‘YANK! A WWII Love Story’ performs at Brisbane Powerhouse until Sunday, 14 July 2019. In the spirit of inclusivity, an Auslan Interpreted Show will also be presented. For ticketing and additional information visit www.understudyproductions.com

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