Book: Douglas Day Stewart
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
With more cheese than a 70s fondue party, An Officer and a Gentleman is a jukebox-style music, replete with ‘bad boy’ attitudes and lovers tiffs. First attempted in 2012, thirty years after the film’s release it now has a revived life touring the UK.
Would it really be any kind of eighties romantic narrative if the lead male wasn’t a ‘bad boy’ with a heart of gold? Or have a plucky female lead, all iron-willed and determined, but still able to tame the bad boy? An Officer and a Gentleman plays to its strengths and whilst never excelling at them, they are handled well enough. Where the production falters are in its attempts to bridge the mediums where the film has the clear advantage.
Zack Mayo seeks his own sense of home as an officer in the US Navy. Jonny Fines doesn’t really fill Richard Gere’s boots, more so swaps them out for James Dean’s kicks. Carried off well, Fines works off the cast with acceptable vocals. Alongside Fines, Emma Williams plays the slightly more interesting, if even more stereotypical, Paula Pokrifiki. Her incarnation of this character is wonderful, feisty, but realistic. In the finale her portrayal allows us to ask who is really saving who? A character hurt and damaged without having these being her defining trait. The remainder of the ensemble performs exceptionally, adding levity, intrigue and some meat on the bare bones. None more so than Ray Shell as Sergeant Foley – again the personification of a stereotype: the hyper-masculine armed forces man who deep down wants his cadets to flourish.
A concerted attempt at steering the writing in a tighter fashion cannot save this poor version of the jukebox format. It’s an odd choice for An Officer and a Gentleman to be a musical, whilst it has a phenomenal soundtrack for the ages, giving us the classic Up Where We Belong, not many songs feel thought out. The cast delivers sterling vocal efforts, none more so than Williams whose rendition of Alone, is utterly awe-inspiring. Numbers such as this fit with the tone of the production, conveying everything intended to by the character. Then we have The Final Countdown… another classic tune, shoe-horned in drastically. We’re all fans of the hit song and with the resounding beat of the march it should work, but it feels flaccid, and entirely pointless. There’s a tendency to push the tension in a cheap manner rather than through genuine conflict.
Besides a horrendously choreographed ‘fight’ sequence – perhaps the biggest insult to martial arts ever conceived, Nickolai Foster’s direction alongside Kate Prince’s choreography is relatively stable. Foster’s touch for knowing just when to cut the jukebox elevates the entire production, the more serious moments becoming needed moments of gravitas in an otherwise paper-thin script. Dancing the thin line of distraction is Douglas O’Connell’s video design, projected against Michael Taylor’s set. There’s a sublime level of thought which, for the most part, is rather bleak: grey, cold and foreboding. It fully emphasises the nature of feeling trapped. What O’Connell attempts is to show us the internal thoughts of the characters, but the clumsily shot scenes (captured, what looks like anywhere but the US) are immeasurably distracting and at times border on tacky.
If you’re intending to see An Officer and a Gentleman for its score, you’ll be surprised but also slightly confused. If those intentions though are to enjoy a revised version of the film, it can be thoroughly recommended. It’s nothing substantial, though it is certainly a lot more than it may first appear.
Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan