An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Monday 18th – Saturday 23rd June 2018
The film “An Officer and a Gentleman” released in 1982, was one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s, reinforcing the star status of Richard Gere after his breakthrough role in American Gigolo. Gere played Zack Mayo, a Navy aviation officer candidate, struggling to break with his past as a navy brat forced on his drunken, boorish father after his mother’s death. It also starred Debra Winger and notably, Louis Gossett Jnr, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the ferocious drill sergeant, Emil Foley.
The story concerns Zack’s struggle to make it as a trainee jet pilot, needing to survive the merciless riding of the drill Sergeant Foley, and his developing relationship with local factory girl, Paula Pokrifki. There is also a sub-plot where Zack’s friend Sid Worley, a sensitive soul, walking in the footsteps of his late brother, becomes romantically involved with the hard-bitten Lynette Pomeroy. Lynette and many of the local girls see the officer candidates as a ticket out of this grey, unpromising town. Like Gere’s later movie, Pretty Woman, the story, as followed by the stage musical, seems to be very much about rescue and it is clear that the troubled Zack needs to be rescued as much as Paula.
The musical follows the plot of the film and packs it with classic (mostly) 80s hits like Girls Just Want to Have Fun, You’re The Voice and I Was Made For Loving You, as well as the film’s big hit, Up Where We Belong. The songs are well-performed by a strong cast that have the vocal chops to take on our memories of the original performances and come out at least even.
Jonny Fines makes a good fist of playing the troubled Zack. He gives a likeable performance, whilst portraying the character’s complexities, and his strong pop voice comes across well, particularly in Blaze of Glory, sung as a duet with Darren Bennett, convincing as his father, Byron Mayo. For those concerned about his ability to fill Richard Gere’s shoes, I should also say that he has clearly spent many hours at the gym, honing his physique, to equip him well for the shirtless scenes. Ian McIntosh is also convincing as Sid Worley, a gentler performance in contrast to Zack’s brashness.
Emma Williams demonstrates her West End pedigree in a strong performance as Paula, the small-town girl who has seen candidates come and go, and who tells herself she is not going to fall for Zack. Her powerful vocals filled the stage on her rendition of Alone and in Don’t Cry Out Loud, sung as a duet with Rachel Stanley, believable as her disappointed but resilient mother, Esther.
The chemistry is effective between the two leads and the tender scenes are relatable and well-handled. Jessica Daley delivers her creed as the cynical Lynette with a first-rate performance of Material Girl, the perfect song in the perfect place in the show.
The other candidates and the factory girls work hard and perform well as an ensemble. Notable amongst them was Keisha Atwell, as ghetto girl, Casey Seegar, fighting to become the first black female jet pilot. The reaction of the audience to her outcome showed they were as invested in her battle as they were in Zack’s.
The show doesn’t duck the tough and tragic side of the story as Sid and Lynette’s relationship goes badly awry.
For me, I wanted more bite from the scenes between Zack and Drill Sergeant Foley. I’m not sure if it was the script or the essential likeability of the veteran West End star, Ray Shell, as Foley that softened the character.
The staging was effective, if unobtrusive, under Director Nikolai Foster, though there is little or no choreography in the show and I felt one or two numbers looked like they could sharpen up a little before the show makes its planned transition to the West End. The sets are, no doubt appropriately, rather monolithic and oppressive, although there was some relief provided by some appealing video and back projection designed by Douglas O’Connell.
A top-notch band delivered under the baton of Musical Director Michael Riley and the lighting design was very effective in the hands of Ben Cracknell.
This is a show that “does what it says on the tin.” It gives you the story of the film, provides a bumper bundle of 80s hits and clearly engaged its audience, who gave the cast a standing ovation on the night I was there. The final iconic scene doesn’t disappoint in its delivery of the “Cinderella” ending. The issues around this in terms of sexual stereotyping and gender roles could keep one awake at night but are best not explored here, and didn’t seem to worry the Theatre Royal audience who were clearly lapping up the nostalgia. It was in a nod to this, perhaps, that Emma Williams wittily picked up Jonny Fines during the curtain call.
Review by Jonathan Cash
Photos by Manuel Harlan