Book: Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: James Garrington
Many movies have iconic moments, moments that linger in the memory long after the rest of the film is fading. An Officer and a Gentleman has one such moment – it may be over 35 years ago, but a lot of people will remember the final scene, to the backdrop of the orchestra soaring into the strains of Up Where We Belong. The film that people know and love has now been made into a stage musical and is currently touring the UK.
Set on and around Pensacola Naval Aviation Training base and the nearby paper factory, An Officer and a Gentleman is an unashamedly romantic drama. The girls at the paper factory look forward to each new batch of candidates at the school – some aiming to find a husband, some just looking for a fun time. This time round Paula Pokrifki and Lynette Pomeroy end up with Zack Mayo, an apparent bad boy who won’t talk about his past, and Sid Worley, the son of an admiral. This being the navy, you couldn’t get away without having a Drill Sergeant making their lives hard, as they attempt to complete the training and spend time with the girls they’ve met. It’s all fairly predictable, with love and loss leading to the final climax.
With a lightweight book and predictable storyline, it comes down to the music and performances to make the real impact. Here the soundtrack includes many well-known 1980s pop anthems, and the strong cast delivers them with gusto, belting out standards like Livin’ On A Prayer, The Final Countdown andMaterial Girl as well as the inevitable Up Where We Belong. Much of it is done to a driving beat that has the feel of being the playlist for some kind of road trip rather than a musical, but – maybe because of the hot summer we’re experiencing – it seems to work, and unlike some jukebox musicals where the songs feel shoehorned in, or the plotline contrived to make the song fit, here they all seem pretty appropriate and in keeping with the feel of the piece.
Jonny Fines is a believable Zack, trying to escape from a past that he won’t discuss at first while Ian McIntosh’s Sid is suitably angst-ridden trying to deal with the expectations of his family and the memory of his brother. Ray Shell is a stereotypical Drill Sergeant, pushing his candidates to the limit because he actually cares about them and what they can achieve. The most outstanding performances here come from the women though. Jessica Daley is in good voice as Lynette, the girl who’d do almost anything to snare a husband, while Emma Williams is superb as Paula, determined to only be looking for a good time but finding herself dragged far deeper than she expected. There’s a strong performance too from Rachel Stanley as Paula’s mother, Esther, conflicted between wanting the best for her daughter and fear of her being hurt.
An Officer and a Gentleman contains adult scenes and strong language, is highly cheesy and terribly corny – and the press night audience lapped it up with relish. It is of its time, and by sticking with the original 1980s storyline it maybe reinforces some gender stereotypes that are less acceptable in today’s society – but if you set that aside, it’s classic feel-good stuff and unchallenging entertainment for a summer evening.
Runs Until 28 July 2018 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan