Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“Yank!” – Diversionary Theatre
AIRDATE: JULY 25, 2008
Atten -hut! Listen up, you guys! There’s a new musical in town, and this is an order. See it. On the double.
Okay, here’s your briefing…
”Yank!” tells a story that’s been kept in the closet for years — the untold tale of gays in the military during the second world war . The show takes its title from the most popular publication in U.S. Army history, a morale-boosting weekly magazine that was written by soldiers, for soldiers.
The musical was created by a couple of Jersey Boys, the brothers Zellnik : Joseph composed the score, which is very much in the style of ‘40s pop songs and movie musicals, and David wrote the funny, poignant book and clever lyrics. Consider it an old-fashioned romance with a contemporary spin. The love interest develops between a wimpy Yank magazine photographer and a handsome, macho guy who can’t quite adjust to who and what he really is. I guarantee you’ll get caught up in this heart-rending show that’s Off Broadway-bound after this West coast premiere.
The framing device is a 60 year-old journal kept by that Yank photographer, found in a bookstore remainder bin by a modern-day San Franciscan. Though the diary isn’t real, all the characters and situations are based on memoirs and oral histories of actual service members, both gay and straight. Making it all the more real, the Diversionary Theatre lobby is adorned with photos and memories from gay San Diego veterans of several conflagrations, from World War II to Iraq , Vietnam to Afghanistan . One soldier is sketched by her partner in silhouette, since she’s still active military and can’t risk exposure.
So, it’s an old story, and a current one, and it’s excellently told. The music is lively and evocative. I didn’t go out singing any one song, but I left feeling touched and moved. Al so sad and angry that, after all these years, the closet is still pretty tightly closed, and some folks still believe gays in the military undermine the effectiveness of our armed forces.
But meanwhile, back at Diversionary, there’s plenty of laughter and fun to be had. The 12-member ensemble is talented and energetic, though several are stronger dramatically than vocally. At the center, Tom Zohar is irresistible as Stu, the pansy who can barely wield a weapon, but puts himself on the frontlines, just to be near his beloved. His indecisive darling is appealingly played by Tom Doyle. Amy Biedel is a knockout in a bevy of roles, from torch singer to butch officer . Her costumes and wigs look great. The set and musical accompaniment are simple but effective. Director Igor Goldin , who’s been with the show since its inception, keeps the action sharp and comical.
All right, you guys. If you’re not at Diversionary Theatre by 1900 hours, it’s latrine duty for a month. Got it? Get going. Company dismissed.
“Yank!” runs through August 17 at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest.
©2008 PAT LAUNER