The Northern Powerhouse initiative to refocus the English economy away from London and the south east is already paying unexpected theatrical dividends thanks to the enterprising Hope Mill theatre in Manchester, who've got not one but two shows transferring in short succession to London after premiering in the North. Their exhilarating revival of the 60s Broadway classic Hair comes to London's Vaults in October, but first even more ambitiously their UK premiere of the 2010 off-Broadway musical Yank! has come to the Charing Cross Theatre. Together they prove that London is not the only place to find bold, adventurous musicals (and further proof comes soon when Everybody's Talking About Jamie transfers from Sheffield to Shaftesbury Avenue in November).
Yank! is a thrilling, old-fashioned surprise with a twist; it feels like a romantic musical of the 40s, in the tuneful, heartfelt tradition of Rodgers and Hammerstein or the easy romanticism of Irving Berlin, yet put the service of a story of gay men in the US military during the Second World War. This is a largely untold story. And David Zellnik's powerful book carries equal weight to the frequently lovely songs that he has provided lyrics for to his brother Joseph Zellnik's alternately lilting and ravishing melodies.
They are imbued with pastiche period flavours, but but have an easy-listening charm of their own. James Baker's production brings the right seriousness yet lightness of touch to make the show seem sincere instead of just earnest.
With Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon bringing a virile masculinity and yet real tenderness to the central couple, both are also powerful singers; they are surrounded by a smart, hard-working ensemble that includes Sarah-Louise Young as a variety of women fantasy figures.
The show is a truly lovely surprise - one of the most charming shows in town.
Yank tickets are on sale now.