Yank!’s unique, wartime love story aims to be one any audience could to connect with
Yank! A WWII Love Story is both a modern and throwback piece. The musical, about two men who fall in love during World War II, is structured at the breakneck pace of a modern play, but the musical style is reminiscent of a golden age production.
“You look how the play structured; it’s shocking how much its like a contemporary play because it’s so fluid,” said James Stover, the production’s Director. “It moves through the dramatic action so similar, that’s contemporary writing to its core…That’s not how you structured a musical in the golden age.”
The play, which gets its name from YANK! magazine, a publication for soldiers during WWII, received widespread attention during its 2010 off-broadway run. The play made headlines as it coincided with the nation debate about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which required active duty military members to hide being LGBTQ.
Even without a national controversy, the stories still hold weight as it opens at Richmond Triangle Players this week.
The story wrestles with what is okay in public and okay in private. Connecting that to the modern day is how Stover wanted to show that juxtaposition.
“So much of the story is how we navigate who we are in our environment,” he said. “I think having the conversations about how that’s still relevant how that’s still present in society is how we launched into dealing with that thematically.”
The first production of the play was in 2007 at the Brooklyn’s Gallery Players. Stover himself played the character Charles Czechowski in that production.
“My experience being in the show was so positive in 2007, it was just such an exciting time to be in the show,” Stover said. “It was really the second- but mostly the first- new play that I had been a part of in New York that there was a lot of buzz around. It was really exciting just to be in the room with everybody working.”
He’s now sitting in the director’s chair, a position he hoped he would one day hold.
“My memory of [the play] was very fond and I knew then coming out of that experience my hope with something in the future I would get to direct it,” he said. “I’m really excited, I feel like I know the play really well “
A lot has changed since that initial production. In its various productions in New York between 2007 and 2010, the book and script were reworked. Stover said his experience working with another version helps him understand the broader strokes of writers David and Joseph Zellnik’s work.
“The knowledge that I have, the knowledge of being involved with a very different version of it knowing the script what it is now but what it came from I think helps inform my understanding what the authors are going for,” Stover said.
He explained that the story, at its core, is about the camaraderie that soldiers build at war. That’s where the romance between Stu (Drew Colletti) and Mitch (Ed Hughes) blossoms.
“I start with the fact that it’s a ‘war play’, it’s a play about a war, so the presence of the war is constant,” Stover said. “I’m telling a story about a bunch of guys at a war and that’s where I start. So it’s ‘Band of Brothers’ the musical story.”
Stover links the play with a Golden Age production that opened the year that Yank! is set- Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein’s play is extraordinarily patriotic, but it is also a Golden Age play.
“If you look at Golden Age musicals, they’re so choppy and they have all these blackouts and these transitions that are slowly moving,” Stover said. “So that’s the way I think of [Yank!]- as a contemporary play with golden age music. The juxtaposition of that is really cool, because we’re telling this story in a contemporary way, we just have this great support of this core that harkens us back to that time.”
Stover described his goals for the production as honest, reflecting how Golden Age tales are told modernly.
“Golden Age musicals are now told from a more honest perspective because of the contemporary audience,” Stover said, bringing up the 1999 reimagining of Oklahoma! in which Hugh Jackman starred. “If it’s a musical, the music has to tie in with the story of the play. So I don’t want to know that I’m watching a musical, I want to know that someone is telling me a story.”
Stover believes the audience for Yank!’s story is universal, saying the story could really be about any two lovers.
The director brought up the song “Couple of Regular Guys” as a testament to the idea that Mitch and Stu are not that different than anyone else- they just happened to fall in love.
“I would love to get an audience in there to show them that idea that these are just two people who fell in love,” Stover said. “And that’s no different from any other situation where that happens.”
Yank! opens at Richmond Triangle Players tomorrow evening. Musical direction for the production was provided by Kim Fox. Tickets can be purchased here.
Ben Weiner is a contributor for GayRVA and RVAMag. 'Nuff said.
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