FeaturedMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical – Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Reviewer: Ray Taylor

Book: Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen

Director: Nikolai Foster

It’s incredible to think that the iconic film upon which this musical is based and starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger first appeared over forty years ago. Many of the audience will have indelible images imprinted on their minds of this eighties feel-good romance and how individuals can make a success of their lives and find fulfilment despite seemingly overwhelming odds. Indeed the show is likely to inspire many of the audience to revisit the original film as it did this reviewer. But the question must be asked: does it work as a musical?

The show does not have original music but uses a soundtrack to die for – a string of mega hits very much of their time but still very popular today such as It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, I Want To Know What Love Is, St Elmo’s Fire, Livin’ On A Prayer, Kids In America, Heart Of Glass, When The Going Gets Tough, Material Girl, The Final Countdown, Up Where We Belong. These songs (and others) are not just there for entertainment value but help to illustrate the action and move the story along. In the vein of many musicals these days their lyrics are specially chosen to be appropriate for the action and help to articulate the emotions of the characters. The only slight change comes in the opening number when the original song In The Army Now substitutes the word Navy.

The cast are uniformly good with some outstanding performances. First and foremost Luke Baker shines as the eponymous anti-hero Zack Mayo. He has charisma and depth and a good singing voice in what is a very demanding physical role. He is obviously a very fit guy athletically with a physique to match and looks the part, doing full justice to what is a very iconic role. The climactic scene in which he enters the factory and sweeps his girl off her feet does not disappoint and brings whoops of delight from a now thoroughly warmed up and delighted audience. Equally as good is Georgia Lennon as girlfriend Paula Pokrifki. Strong and confident musically, she has an onstage chemistry with Zack and is convincing in the group dynamics as well as the more intimate quieter moments.

Jamal Kane Crawford is simply superb as the very tough and strict Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. Strutting the stage like a caged lion, his stentorian voice berating his recruits and demanding ever more from them yet ultimately begrudgingly winning his respect, he is perfectly cast in what is a very memorable performance.

The other two substantial roles go to Paul French as conflicted new recruit Sid Worley and his girlfriend Sinead Long as Lynette Pomeroy. French came across not quite as confident musically at first but grew into the part, ultimately producing an emotional portrayal of a decent guy trying to do the right thing but too bogged down by his past to achieve happiness. Long had the unfortunate experience of becoming indisposed during the latter stages of the second act and not being able to continue. Up to then she had been excellent as the most forward of the factory girls, clearly ambitious in wanting to change her life by marrying a pilot and forging a future together. She is determined to achieve her goal by any means necessary. Her acting and singing are very strong and it is a great shame that she was taken ill and never received the undoubted applause that surely would have come her way. Her role was very ably completed by understudy Etisyai Philip who must be commended for literally stepping in in such unforeseen circumstances. One can only hope that Long makes a full recovery.

Mention too must be made of some of the other cast. Melanie Masson as Paula’s mother Esther Pokrifki has a very strong singing voice and features in a number of the songs, most memorably with Wendy Harriott (Aunt Bunny) in This Is A Man’s Man’s Man’s World. She is the somewhat world-weary longstanding veteran of the factory also having to put up with a difficult home life. Olivia Foster-Browne is also very good as the first female recruit Casey Seegar.

The idea of the set design is to create a world that can feel like a military base, the motel, the factory, bars and other places around Pensacola, Florida. The central staircase structure affords multiple staging and varying levels of operation and is easily moved around. Interestingly, the imposing wire mesh walls of this central structure evoke the idea that all the characters in the play are trying to escape (some more successfully than others), and the lighting and sound effects add to this idea. I thought the staging worked pretty well, all achieved with the minimum of fuss.

The world premiere of this musical was in 2018 and it has received some very negative reviews, but this current version of the show deserves a more favourable verdict. It has still some time to go before it is firmly established in the favourite musicals repertoire but I think it merits praise for its attempt to transfer a memorable, phenomenal film success to the stage. All the cast work extremely hard to portray this world and this reviewer had a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Runs until 30 March 2024

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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