Thursday 19 April 2018

An Officer and a Gentleman

Curve, Leicester
19th April, 2018

An original review of Taylor Hackford’s 1982 movie said that An Officer and a Gentleman ‘relies on the strength of [its] stereotypes to build a conventional but hugely compelling drama’. This new musical adaptation, receiving its world premiere at Curve, makes no apologies for embracing the melodrama of the movie. In doing so, it delivers a polished, unabashed production which confirms Curve and director Nikolai Foster as exceptional producers of commercial new musicals.

For all of its air-punching, feel-good moments (and there are plenty of those!), this is no ordinary jukebox musical. On entering the auditorium, a montage depicts 1980s culture: MTV, adverts for Tab soda and KFC, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Michael Jackson. However, clips of Reagan schmoozing with his old school Hollywood varnish acts as a reminder that it was also a decade of the AIDS crisis, Reaganomics, and a decline in social mobility. This creates a political backdrop for the caravan parks, cheap motels, sleazy bars and paper mills of Pensacola, Florida. It is here where the US naval aviation training facility offers a last chance saloon to its cadets and for the female workers of a nearby factory who see the pilots as their ticket out of a dead end life. Douglas Day Stewart’s (original screenplay) and Sharleen Coper Cohen’s book is sometimes too expositional and draws the characters too boldly but this perhaps only enhances the cult classic melodrama status of it.

Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo, four-time Olivier nominee Emma Williams as Paula, and Jessica Daley as Lynette have a dangerously electrifying presence as the leading trio. We see Fines soften from a James Dean-type rebel to the more emotionally attached figure he is at the end - this is especially conveyed in a reprise of ‘Family Man’. Williams is his perfect match. I got chills when hearing her sing in a similar reaction to when seeing Bernadette Peters last month in Hello, Dolly! in New York. You're left with no doubt that Paula and Lynette would easily get their jets if they applied. Ray Shell also provides good support as Foley, the stiff-backed sergeant-cum-father figure that won Louis Gossett Jr. the Oscar. It’s interesting (and apt for the stage) that his ‘Jody Call’ number is essentially a mini version of A Chorus Line but with naval students.

The score is mostly made up of 1980s hits, from ‘Material Girl’ to ‘The Final Countdown’, all of them gamely performed by the cast and superbly choreographed by Kate Prince. Occasionally, characters’ difficulties feel crow-barred in around lines from songs. Paula and Zack singing ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, for instance, is very affecting until Zack’s small town friend Sid (Ian McIntosh, the perfect antithesis to Daley’s Lynette) sings the next verse possibly referring to his sexual incompetence. Quibbles aside, Foster gives the audience what they want with the songs, resulting in several of moments of musical ecstasy. One of these comes in the form of the act two karaoke opener ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, where Ben Cracknell’s bar lighting surges as if they’re going to blow from the amount of energy on stage. Sarah Travis and George Dyer beautifully orchestrate Will Jennings’ ‘Up Where We Belong’, concentrating its melody to leitmotifs that punctuate and underscore the show, leading to the triumphantly uplifting final scene.

An Officer and a Gentleman plays at Curve, Leicester until 21st April and then tours the UK.

Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo and Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki. Credit: Manuel Harlan

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