Book: Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
This could be a show that splits its audience: those that know and love the film will likely be won over, but for those who don’t, the near-constant stream of 80s hits may or may not be enough to keep all onside.
Douglas Day Stewart’s original screenplay is based on his own experiences as a Naval Officer Candidate while dating a local factory girl in Pensacola, Florida. Day Stewart, alongside his co-writer, Sharleen Cooper Cohen have maintained the simple working-class love story along with several iconic moments and, indeed, music from the original film – the main difference in this show being the sheer volume of 1980s hits that now sit alongside Up Where We Belong.
A challenge in adapting film for the stage is the amount of scene changes required to maintain the pace of moving between locations – in this case, the US Naval Aviation Training facility; the Pensacola Paper Factory; a bar and a motel. Michael Taylor’s Set and Ben Cracknell’s Lighting Designs aid some slick transitions and allow the audience to find a level playing field between the worlds of the would-be Naval Officers and the women of the paper factory as they all struggle with their own oppressive regime. The use of a staircase leading nowhere is effective for separating the characters in their sub-plots, although with so many power-ballads in play in the second half, it’s use begins to feel a little cliché by the end.
The cast of the show work hard and there are notable performances. Ray Shell as the tough drill instructor has the right balance of aggression with a touch of humility and Ian McIntosh’s Sid, the naval cadet trying to find his place in the world, has depth of character: his powerful rendition of Family Man in Act Two is particularly impressive. Ultimately, it is Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo and Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki who carry this show and bring the audience to its feet. Fines has impressive strength – literally and theatrically – and is able to combine full-on vocals with scene after scene of physical endurance. Williams is totally at ease vocally, effortlessly moving between dialogue and song: in particular, her rendition of Alone in Act Two is entirely her own while always being true to its 80s power-ballad roots.
There is much to commend in this production, but ultimately the need to stay true to the original film does cause some complications onstage. The adrenaline-fueled obstacle course scene has a driving underscore with obscures some dialogue and in a bar scene, there is an awkward moment in which the audience isn’t immediately guided to its new focus and is left wondering if the adlibbing actors centre-stage have been the victim of another microphone slip (there were two early on in this performance). The fight-scene between Foley and Mayo doesn’t come off well: it was probably necessary in the film, but here it feels contrived and unconvincing.
That said, however, the moment in which Mayo literally sweeps Paula off her feet is a success and provides a feel-good ending that not only matches the film, but also ‘lifts it up’ (in true musical-theatre style). The inimitable soundtrack of the 80s certainly fits this simple story well although, for this reviewer, it isn’t able to suitably stir the emotions in its more serious scenes.
Runs until 11 August 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan