An Officer and a Gentleman – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
An Officer and a Gentleman – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, April 2018
by Sandra Callard
The new musical An Officer and a Gentleman, based on the eighties film of the same name, and which starred the enviable Richard Gere, is now touring the provinces.
The story was originally penned by Douglas Day Stewart when he was training at a base in Pensacola, Florida, and the show stays faithful to his original idea. Those who remember the film will also appreciate the ring of truth in the portrayals of hardship and prejudices that the film revealed.
The first Act of the stage version relies heavily and repetitively on the somewhat brutal treatment the training seargent, Emil Foley, dishes out to the prospective naval cadets. Foley is played with suitable venom by Ray Shell, who we hate from his first vindictive retort to the new officer cadets, but who we grow to admire, primarily as a first rate acting job from Shell, but also because Foley gets results from the cadets.
Opening scenes of necessity set the scene and introduce the characters, and this is done succinctly and skillfully, so why does boredom fairly quickly set in? In a word: repetition. Officer cadets being verbally and physically abused ad infinitum by the admirable Sergeant Foley eventually loses its impact, and with it my sympathy. Too much of a good thing is just, well, too much. I got the message way back.
However, the second Act is a completely different matter. Sharp, musical, dramatic, tragic, emotional, to name just a few adjectives that apply, and suddenly the excitement starts as the show roller-coasts towards its finale.
“Shifting and passionate”
The two romantic leads, Paula and Zack, are perfectly portrayed by Emma Williams’ and Jonny Fines’ performances, in spite of them having the unenviable tasks of stepping into the shoes of Debra Winger and Richard Gere. They pull it off remarkably well, as their taut emotions are shifting and passionate, as they are given and withheld in turns. The eagerly awaited, and crucial, finale in the factory does not disappoint either, and has the audience cheering.
The show has a galaxy of seasoned pop songs from the eighties, from the questionable, in both content and style, ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’ to the beautiful and emotional ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ sung with conviction and passion by Paula and her mother, Esther (played with gusto and sadness by Rachel Stanley). Each song hits hard; ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ are only a few of the show’s welcome great hits.
“Tragedy and sheer joy”
The songs bring back the days of the eighties with startling clarity. Women’s rights, Vietnam in flames, and ex-Hollywood actor Reagan as president, all flit tellingly across the stage, as the glorious theme song, ‘Up Where We Belong’, floats repeatedly in the air.
The fast-paced finale is a tantalising mixture of deep tragedy and sheer joy, with a heavy dose of the best selection of eighties music to be found, each of which is appropriate to every incident that takes place, both the unknown and the absolute certainties. The original film’s Oscar-winning glory may never be bettered, but this show is great theatre with a sterling cast who never stint on performance.
images: Manuel Harlan