Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Yank! A WWII Love Story
Manatee Players
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Red, White & Bello! and Chess

William E. Masuck and Brian Craft
Photo Courtesy of Manatee Performing Arts Center
With word getting around that Chess in Stone Hall is a big hit, the lobby at The Manatee Performing Arts Center was full of excitement when I arrived for Yank! A WWII Love Story, a musical written by brothers Joseph (music) and David (book and lyrics) Zellnik. I first encountered the show via a fine cast recording a few years ago. As a gay man who has lived my live parallel to the burgeoning gay rights movement, this story of same sex love during World War II is an important part of my history. Yank is part of the Action through Acting series and is in collaboration with Equality Florida.

Yank is the story of a group of raw recruits, including our hero Stu, who is gay but hasn't emotionally connected with that yet. He becomes romantically involved with Mitch, also gay but in his mind just a "regular guy." Stu also connects with Artie, a photographer for Yank Magazine who shows him the way around the gay underground.

Brian Craft as Stu captures the effeminate nature of the character while weaving it into the unworldliness of a Midwestern farmer. His fine singing completes an excellent performance. William E. Masuck, well loved on Manatee Players stages, plays Mitch strong, manly, but still attracted to Stu. He also sings strongly, scoring with "Rememb'ring You" and joining Brian Craft in "A Couple of Regular Guys." Brian Finnerty as Artie comes very close to stealing the show. Artie is primarily a dancing role and he taps away any concerns I had about whether or not Manatee Players could properly cast this role. He is also credited with choreography, which means that if others in the cast dance well, and they do, he gets the credit. His acting is on par with his terrific singing and dancing. Chris Hines as Tennessee, David Addis as Czechowski, Joseph Rebella as Rotelli, Phil Morehouse as Cohen and two other roles, and Josh Roberson (I cannot, will not believe that he is a high school freshman even if it is at Manatee School for the Arts. He nails the Boston accent) form a very strong ensemble for the songs "Yank," "Polishing Shoes," "Betty," and "Your Squad Is Your Squad." Katie Eichler is delightful in eight different women's roles. She understands the style of the music (pastiche of the era), but because women's voices often do not project quite as well as men's (especially in the Kiwanis Theater), she might be discreetly miked. Jay Poppe and Brian Strubbe play several roles to complete the strong cast.

Much of the credit for the fine production must go to director Kenn C. Rapczynski, who came onto my radar a few years ago with an incredible performance as Jean Valjean for Manatee Players and has followed up with other wonderful performances. Now I find out he is a director of no mean talent, as well. The script is historically accurate and Mr. Rapczynski has done his research to properly put numerous small details into proper perspective. As noted above, Brian Finnerty's choreography is a big plus and musical direction by Michelle Neal is spot on, in synch with the period style. Set design by Ralph Nurmela is highly effective. The main set piece of a bunk bed is effectively used to define other locations and strongly suggests the WWII setting with painted steel pipe. Costume design by Georgina Willmott is equal to the best of her work for Manatee Players. Ms. Eichler's outfits and especially wigs are excellent. Lighting design by Patrick Bedell illuminates the emotional content of the story. This production brings a new level of quality to the Kiwanis Theater.

I was pre-disposed toward Yank and Manatee Players have not let me down. I have been telling everyone I see, people I know who love theater and GLBT friends and acquaintances, not to miss this show. Thank you to Manatee Players and Rick Kerby for the courage to produce this show which might not be to the tastes of all of their regular audience.

Manatee Players presents Yank! A WWII Love Story through March 6, 2016, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111,

Cast: Stu: Brian Craft
Mitch: William E. Masuck
Artie/Scarlett: Brian Finnerty
Tennessee: Chris Hines
Czechowski: David Addis
Rotelli: Joseph Rebella
Professor: Josh Roberson
Woman/Louise: Katie Eichler
Sarge/India/Ensemble: Jay Poppe
Melanie/Lieutenant/Ensemble: Brian Strubbe
Cohen/Speedy/Ensemble: Phil Morehouse

Directed by Kenn C. Rapczynski
Choreographed by Brian Finnerty
Musical Direction By Michelle Neal
Stage Manager: Todd Keefe
Set Design by Ralph Nurmela
Costume Design by Georgina Willmott
Lighting Design by Patrick Bedell

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