Based on the book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Director: Nikolai Foster
Choreographer: Kate Prince
Musical supervision: Sarah Travis
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
Wow… just about sums up this wonderful staging of An Officer and a Gentleman from Curve Productions, premiering this week at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. The 1982 film of the same name is an icon that has lived on over the years, a symbol of true romance that can literally sweep you off your feet, but it is a hard act to follow. Richard Gere and Debra Winger in the lead screen roles epitomised the characters of Zack Mayo and Paula Pokrifki, but they are faithfully recreated on stage by very talented actors in this lavish musical.
The story unfolds to a feel-good soundtrack of 80s classic anthem hits such as Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Material Girl, Heart of Glass, Alone, Toy Soldiers, The Final Countdown and of course the great hit from the film, Up Where We Belong. Young Zack, with Jonny Fines in the role, has a troubled past, brought up by his hard-drinking, womanising sailor father (played by a swaggering Darren Bennett) after his mother committed suicide. His dream is to be a pilot in the US Navy and get one up on his dad The story opens with a motley bunch of recruits, “You’re in the navy now” and they sure suffer for it, at the hands of Drill Sergeant Foley, played loudly and savagely by Ray Shell. There are some very realistic gymnasium scenes with young men, fit in all senses of the word – not forgetting the sole female recruit, Casey Seegar, aka beautiful, petite, but tough Keisha Atwell – being put through their paces. There are death-defying combat exercises and trials, forcing several would-be pilots to DOR (Drop On Request). Zack soldiers on, along with his best mate Sid aka Ian McIntosh, despite the sergeant having a downer on him and forcing him into humiliations such as cleaning urinals with a toothbrush.
It isn’t all hard graft though. The lads get to go off base, visit TJ’s bar, and fraternise with the local girls who all work in dreary jobs in the neighbourhood factory. It’s a tradition amongst every generation of the girls that they try to ensnare a would-be pilot into a relationship and the security of a glamorous marriage lived on military bases all over the world. Paula (Emma Williams) and Lynette (Jessica Daley) seem no different when they woo Zack and Sid. With the chip of his childhood sitting heavily on his shoulder, Zack is a guy tightly packed inside his own protective shell, and it seems that he will never get close to anyone. However, Sid is desperate for love, and falls heavily for a scheming Lynette. There’s shocking tragedy, sadness, soul-searching guilt, learned teamwork, hard graft and finally success for most of the recruits. Zack becomes the officer that he dreamed of, his father will salute him now, and he’s proved himself. But more than that, he transforms into a true gentleman. His caring coaching to get Seegar over that gym wall; the devastation he feels about Sid; and the breathtakingly romantic gesture that he finally feels able to make to Paula are all the proof needed that he’s laid his demons and realised the importance of love and friendship in life.
The sets in the production are perfect – surely the waves unfurling in the background beyond the ship are real, and the bleak metal frameworks are straight from a military base? Both acts are introduced by pictures and soundtracks from the 1980s, which has all the audience oohing and nodding at the memories. The costumes too are true 80s, with such staples as dungarees and cord jackets putting in appearances. Then, of course, there are the uniforms…whose heart doesn’t beat a little faster when confronted by a line of military pilots in full whites? We even know the underwear matches…
An Officer and a Gentleman is a beautiful musical, a must-see show that celebrates triumph over adversity, and proves that modern fairy tales have happy endings too. It’s impossible to not sing along to the inspiring tracks, weep at the helplessness and then the success, and finally, stand to show appreciation of a pretty perfect theatre experience. Love it.
Runs until Saturday 28 April 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan