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Bobby Steggert gives an emotionally charged performance in this vibrant new musical, which chronicles the love story between two male soldiers during World War II. logo
Bobby Steggert and Ivan Hernandez
in Yank!
(© Carol Rosegg)
An old-fashioned musical with a contemporary sensibility, Yank!, now being presented by the York Theatre Company at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, is a love story between two male soldiers during World War II. The tuner -- written by brothers David and Joseph Zellnik -- has been kicking around for the last few years, including stops at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and Brooklyn's Gallery Players, and Igor Goldin's current production emphasizes the show's strengths, while not completely obscuring its weaknesses.

Yank! chronicles the journey of Stu (Bobby Steggert) who meets and falls in love with fellow soldier Mitch (Ivan Hernandez) during basic training. But while the other fellows in his unit go off to fight in the Pacific, Stu opts for a gig as photographer for Yank!, a magazine (which actually existed) written by soldiers for soldiers.

The score does a marvelous job in evoking the time period and demonstrates the influences of such songsmiths as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and the Gershwins without ever coming across as derivative. The opening number, "Rememb'ring You," gorgeously sung by Hernandez in his sexy baritone, sounds as if it could have been a popular radio hit of the time, while other catchy songs include "Betty," "A Couple of Regular Guys," and "Click." That last song is also a phenomenal tap number, performed by Steggert with the production's choreographer Jeffry Denman, who plays Stu's friend, mentor, Yank collaborator, and sometime lover, Artie.

The book is at its best when focusing on the Stu-Mitch relationship, nicely capturing the awkward flirtation that they engage in during basic training, Mitch's emotional retreat following their first kiss, the tension of their reunion when Artie and Stu come to do a feature story on Mitch's unit, and the tumultuous events that surround the discovery of their affair. However, when the focus of the musical shifts to its supporting cast, particularly the other men in Mitch and Stu's unit, it founders somewhat as the parts are written so broadly that a number of the actors are unable to do much more than play a stereotype. (Tally Sessions, who plays the Brooklyn-bred Czechowski, presents the most nuanced characterization.)

No such problem exists for Steggert, who gives a rich, emotionally charged performance that believably charts the transformation of Stu from insecure teenager to a man who knows exactly who he is and who is able to fight for what (and who) he loves. Hernandez also does good work, and has a dynamic onstage chemistry with Steggert, which makes several of their scenes together smolder. He's equally affecting in his quieter scenes, including his final appearance with Stu, which is heartbreaking in its intensity.

Denman, who has been with the show since its NYMF days, has added depth to his portrayal, and in this incarnation there seems to be a stronger emotional connection between Artie and Stu, as well as a bit of jealousy on Artie's part that results from his partner's attachment to Mitch.

Nancy Anderson plays all of the women that the script calls for, from the girls the soldiers left stateside to a series of radio sirens to a lesbian officer. None of these roles is particularly fleshed out, but Anderson is a fine singer with a magnetic presence.

The current production of Yank! is tighter than its two previous New York outings, and for the first time, the second act dream ballet (danced by Joseph Medeiros as Dream Stu and Denis Lambert as Dream Mitch), actually seems to work. Other aspects of the script could still use some fine-tuning, such as the scene in which Stu is called in front of a military tribunal. But overall, this is a vibrant new musical that is both thoughtful and entertaining.

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