Be swept off your feet by “An Officer and a Gentleman – the Musical” at the Edinburgh Playhouse
“Old-fashioned without sacrificing its characters to simplicity, “An Officer and a Gentleman” successfully walks the fine line between sweeping romance and melodrama”
This neat overview on Rotten Tomatoes (81% ripe) captures the essence of the iconic 1982 movie starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, which was nominated for 7 Oscars, winning two including for the hit song “Up Where We Belong.”
The title is an historic expression from the Royal Navy (1860) regarding a charge for “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.” The autobiographical tale was based on the experiences of Douglas Day Stewart who served in the military during the Vietnam War era. He attended the Officer Candidate School, at the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island in 1962, a 12 week course under a tough drill instructor. As the recruits were from diverse social backgrounds, he roughed up his own character, put him on a motorcycle, gave him tattoos and martial arts skills to become Zack Mayo, who like Stewart himself, meets a local factory girl.
He has long believed that such a Cinderella love story was perfect for a classic Musical and in collaboration with Sharleen Cooper Cohen, the narrative was adapted from screen to stage, with a soundtrack featuring a medley of 1980s hit songs, such as Material Girl, Heart of Glass, Alone, Toy Soldiers, Kids in America, The Final Countdown and Up Where We Belong.
To take us on a time travel trip back thirty plus years, an opening screen shows a montage of famous faces of the era from President Reagan to Michael Jackson as well as vintage phones and computers. To a foot tapping rendition of “In the Navy Now,” the long haired, denim-clad recruits arrive, some already sullen, bolshy and bored as they line up to meet the fierce Drill Sergeant Foley.
Zack is here with ambitious plans to improve his lot; brought up by his womanising sailor father, his dream is to be a pilot in the US Navy and break free from the past.
We observe a realistic fitness bootcamp – the ensemble are serious athletes as well as fine singers and dancers – as Foley puts the wannabe officers through their paces with a strict routine. Zack hits it off with two classmates, Sid and the only female candidate Casey, who is desperate to keep up with the guys.
The quick changing scenes are set around the industrial, steel rigged structure of a moveable staircase, lecture room, gymnasium, dormitory with a backdrop video of rolling waves of the sea which is most authentic. A realistic slice of working class labour is witnessed at The Pensacola Paper factory, where a troupe of hard headed, soft hearted women are keen to follow the tradition of generations of factory girls to try to woo a trainee officer into a relationship and then marriage to ensure a military wife-life, travelling the world. in comfort and style.
Glammed up for a party at the Naval base, Factory girls Paula and Lynette are immediately snapped up by Zack and Sid for a formal dance, then head off to TJs Bar for drinks, where “Girls just wanna have fun” until the wee sma’ hours and beyond.
The narrative follows their parallel romantic relationships alongside the gruelling training in an aircraft carrier simulator, exercises and trials, with drop outs and disciplinary action for failure. Ray Shell is exemplary in his portrayal as the brutal, bossy Sergeant Foley who suffers no fools gladly, as well as being a kindly, compassionate father figure.
Taking centre stage are Jonny Fines as Mayo (nicknamed Mayonnaise), and Emma Williams as Paula who express a cool, charismatic chemistry as they slowly get to know each other from strangers to lovers, but each with a ton of emotional baggage from their respective dysfunctional family lives.
The final scene in the movie – regarded as one of the most romantic scenes – is faithfully replicated but unfortunately, it seems to be over in a second, almost lost on a crowded stage and more of an innocent brief encounter than the Gere – Winger moment of impulsive, electrifying, pure passion.
The musical soundtrack of familiar lyrics has been shoe-horned into the plot, some songs slotting in more easily than others to carry the story seamlessly along. Expect a high standard of acting, choreography, music, production values, costumes, lighting, design and fast paced action.
While this could be as cheesy as a Quattro Formaggi Pizza with an extra spoonful of parmesan, this light and frothy jukebox show is rich in dramatic tension and strong characterisation, captured with heartfelt empathy and true grit.
“An Officer and a Gentleman – the Musical” is at the Edinburgh Playhouse from 2 – 7 July www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh Box office 0844 871 3014
Stop Press: Douglas Day Stewart has recently finished the screenplay for a sequel and sending it to Warner Brothers. It is described as a trailblazer, a story of female empowerment personified by Zack’s daughter who wants to be a jet pilot, but who knows her dark secrets.?