An Officer and a Gentleman - The Musical
 

 

paula and zach

Emma Williams as Paula and Jonny-Fines as Zack.

An Officer and a Gentleman - The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

This is really an officer, a gentleman and a jukebox – a combination which produces a classy musical based on the hit 1982 Richard Gere film, all sailing along with some cracking songs of the time.

Only the iconic Up Where We Belong manages to make it from the original film soundtrack, and let’s be honest, it would be a brave soul to leave that out, and recruited into this navy tale come some 80’s classics bringing waves of nostalgia.

Not that this is your average jukebox musical mind, there might be 23 songs, but they are never shoehorned in, in fact, if you had missed the 80s completely you would happily think they had been written just for the show, they slot in so well.

We open with the orchestra playing Up Where We Belong as an overture, a recurring theme until it is finally sung in the Cinderella style finale, then the show opens with You’re In The Navy Now, a reworking of the Status Quo in the army now hit.

We had Bon Jovi, Madonna, Blondie, Foreigner, Europe, James Brown, Cindi Lauper and on and on with everything from rock to power ballads to pop all wrapped around a half decent story of wannabes arriving at the US Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School hoping to become fighter pilots.

Dragging them through training, tough love style, is Sgt Emil Foley, played beautifully by a sneering Ray Shell.

Among the would-be officers we have Sid, son of an admiral, played by Ian McIntosh, who seemingly has it all . . . except he really wanted to be a baseball player and perhaps is going through all this navy stuff trying to live up to his navy pilot brother who died when has fighter crashed in the sea.

sid

Ian McIntosh as Sid, drunk, disheveled and in despair as his life falls apart

At the other end of the scale is Zack Mayo, Mayonnaise, from the far side of the wrong side of the tracks. His mom committed suicide and his father is an alcoholic womaniser with a penchant for prostitutes – oh, and he is a petty officer on the same base, and a man the Navy would prefer to lose.

Jonny Fines plays Zach with admirable sensitivity, a young man, who fears he could be out of his depth, who finds life hard, but has a determination to succeed because, as he says in his most vulnerable moment, he has nothing else.

And, this is 1982 remember, so we have Keisha Atwell as Casey Seegar, who wants to be the first female jet pilot and needs Zach, with hidden depths only Foley knows are there, to help her graduate.

Then there are the girls outside the base gates, with some awaiting the arrival of a new crop of potential husbands. Lynette has done her research and has her eyes firmly set on Sid – naval aristocracy don’t come along every day.

Jessica Daley gives her a flirty air, we all know what she is after, but even so, it is not until she finally gets what she wants that we realise how shallow and scheming she really is. Her love comes at a real price – an officer's commission being the down payment.

Then there is Paula, who like Lynette, and half the women in the town, works in the poorly paid paper bag factory. Her dream is less material – she wants to be a nurse and if she meets a naval candidate . . . well . . . all she wants is a good time, nothing more.

It is a lovely performance by Emma Williams as she slowly falls for Zach and he slowly opens up to her in their developing romance, a love story which is the spine of the show.

There is excellent support for our lovers. There is Rachel Stanley as Esther, Paula’s mother, a living warning to all the girls hoping to snare an aviator, or Darren Bennett who plays the aggressive, dismissive Byron Mayo, who delights in runnig his son down, telling him he is not good enough to be an officer.

Then an excellent ensemble of candidates, locals and workers who bring life to every scene and the ensemble singing in songs such as You’re in the navy now and Livin’ on a prayer providing a powerful delight.

The singing throughout is a highlight with the four leads all memorable with duets and solos by Paula and Zach, Lynette and Sid as good as you are likely to get.

And when it comes to music, what a band! The nine-piece under musical director Michael Riley are just superb coping with a huge range of styles and genres from the likes of The Final Countdown to I want to know what love is and sad ballads such as Alone and Don’t cry out loud, a lovely  emotional version from Rachel Stanley.

Kate Prince’s choreography is always interesting while Michael Taylor’s setting is flexible magic using revolving walls and towers as well and scenes descending from the flies, which, unusually, are often lit and in full view high above the stage..

The walls are also used for stage wide video, designed by Douglas O’Connell, which add to mood of scenes as did the dramatic and sympathetic lighting from Ben Cracknell.

Director Nikolai Foster, artistic director of The Curve in Leicester, which created and produced the show, has built a solid reputation and this excellent musical can only enhance that.

I never saw the film, so it had to stand on its own just as a musical and it managed that with aplomb, ticking pretty well every box. It ended with cheers for the romantic finale and a standing ovation. Everyone headed off home happy with a smile on their face – and you can’t ask for more than that. To 19-05-18

Roger Clarke

15-05-18 

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