Review: "An Officer and a Gentleman" - U.K. & Ireland Tour

Lewis Baird

  • United Kingdom Theatre Critic

I know what you're thinking, another film to musical adaptation? Yes. However, for me, this was a bit different, I hadn't seen the original film of An Officer and a Gentleman. In fact, I was none the wiser on what the story was about, I purposely didn't research the film because I wanted to see if the story could unfold on stage neatly without needing to know the film. So I headed along to the Edinburgh Playhouse, and I can safely say, I was very surprised.

An Officer and a Gentleman the musical, produced by the geniuses at the prestigious, The Curve, follows the story of two men, Zack Mayo and Sid Worley. Both men are from different backgrounds, Sid is from a rich background, and Zack is from a rough background where he lost his mother, plus never really had a father figure. They are both trying to successfully go through United States Naval Aviation training. Both men take different routes in life, in and out the training facility. With a mirrored struggle shown with the two men's love interests, Paula Pokrifki and Lynette Pomeroy. This is a romance story that has tension, deceit, and honor.

I was given the greatest surprise when reading the programme, to learn that Nikolai Foster is directing this production. Nikolai directed the musical I voted my favourite musical theatre production in 2017/18, Sunset Boulevard. And so far, he has been my favourite musical theatre director to date. I thought I was going to need to wait and see the forthcoming tour of Annie the musical, before I got to see his work again, so this was a very pleasant surprise. Especially seeing as this production was directed exquisitely, Nikolai made this musical, cinematic within a theatre, he uses the space effectively, while making sure it is a very theatrical experience, blending natural acting style and making the actors use the popular musical numbers efficiently, it's clear that he gives this production the justification for the screen to stage transition. Collaborating with Kate Prince as choreographer is perfection, as she does not make the choreography overly musical theatre and sticks more to a physical theatre side, using sharp movements relating to the events and context within the scene, for me it was nice to see contemporary physical theatre used, rather than overly complicated, dance orientated choreography which I feel would not be suitable for the piece.

Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen are the writers of the book for this musical, with Stewart being the original screenwriter of the motion picture. At points, this feels very much like a play with songs, which is definitely not a bad thing. The story is strong, which is sometimes rare within musical theatre. It is very much an interesting story, which at points dives in on dark themes and issues. It is cheesy at points, so it varies, which to me makes this such a memorable production for me, it does have one of the strongest scripts out there as far as musicals go.

Michael Taylor designs the set and costume for this big production. The two movable, separate grey walls, one going almost diagonally from upstage to downstage left and the other upstage to downstage right, work well for continuous use throughout the show, with exits resembling hanger doors opening plus closing, adapting to the ongoing scene. And also, they are predominately accompanied by the set of stairs. There is also flats, backdrops and cages which transition on stage. This minimalistic design, still looks complex and with superb projections by Douglas O'Connell and breathtaking lighting design by Ben Cracknell, this production looks visually stunning.

Sarah Travis is musical supervisor and Michael Riley as musical director have absolutely selected some fantastic 80s hits to feature in this musical, even though at points it feels a little clustered and some do not fit the context of the scene, the main percentage of the music featured, is apt and very much enjoyed. Especially the way George Dyer has arranged and orchestrated this musical. If you are expecting sound to be an issue, don't, the bass hits you as soon as the musical begins, the band very much sound like you are at a concert, even the drums have a mic, just to amp things up. Hits like Final Countdown and St Elmos Fire were played in brilliant glory. A haunting orchestration of Kids in America left the audience with this their mouths open, after hearing this song sung in such a dark way. And of course! Up where we belong was sang with perfect harmonies by the cast. All in all, this is not a flimsy musical playlist, this is very sturdy and it was played flawlessly, at a perfect loud volume to give extra kick of energy.

Jonny Fines plays Zack Mayo, the journey he takes us on with this character is one which is not only enlightening for the characters on stage but the way the audience feels and attaches themselves to the character's journey is mainly with the way that Jonny manages to change a character so drastically and believably within the 2 hours and 10 minutes the production runs. At the end, the audience see a different man from the damaged roustabout we see at the beginning of the musical, this is purely due to Jonny's natural acting ability. His vocal talents are also very impressive too, managing to array such suited emotion through the music, which at points may have lyrics non-related to the situation Zack is going through, yet Jonny still holds the emotion and makes the song relatable. Also, the emotional scenes shared with the brilliant Darren Bennett, who featured as Bryon Mayo, a small character that impacted the audience so much. Jonny and Darren both owned the tense scenes, which featured some standard of acting that can usually only be seen on the big screen.

Ian McIntosh portrays Sid Worley beautifully, we see a young, also damaged and naive man, who goes on a journey of discovery for what he wants within life. I would say that Sid's journey features few musical numbers and that it is pretty script dependent, which I think is important. This does not phase Ian, who develops this character into being a different man by the end of his journey and I would say the audience sympathize with him most within this production. And Ian's acting talent is what holds this character, the despair, love and trauma this character goes through is performed with such naturalism, it is so believable, and not overdramatic, I feel like if I watch the film this musical is based on, I would be disappointed as Ian's portrayal was of a very high standard.

Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki owns the stage, showing a strong woman doing what she believes is right. Emma's performance is done with such strength and grace, that when she sings Don't Cry Out Loud with such raw emotion it really does impact the audience. This performance features such depth that it is clear Williams belongs on the stage. Along with Rachel Stanley, who plays her on stage mother, Esther Pokrifki, there is a sense of despair and longing for something out of life we get from this character. And Rachel does this with such power, mainly showcasing her spectacular voice, it is such a fantastic performance for a supporting role. Jessica Daley as Lynette Pomeroy is a character which we start of seeing as innocent, Jessica does very well wearing the vale over the character's true intentions and performs the flip in character flawlessly as she changes how we perceive Lynette, after a great performance of Material Girl.

Keisha Atwell as Casey Seegar, is great as this supporting character who we see develop in a side story. Some of the scenes we share with this character is some of the most emotional within the musical, especial with how Keisha develops Casey from being the "ghetto girl" to a strong and successful woman. Atwell's portrayal showcases her splendid vocal and acting talent while also showing how diverse feminism should be.

My standout actor/character in this full production is Ray Shell as Emil Foley, for me the energy and charisma that was brought on stage to perform as this character was great. This character could have fallen flat and been uninteresting by Ray owns it, bringing great acting and comic timing, plus some great vocal technique. He made me laugh, gasp and even nearly cry at one point. That is everything you want from a show, and Ray for me was a standout in this performance.

There is also a great ensemble who helped add to the high standard that this production is, plus they all worked brilliantly together and were featured throughout the show. They ensemble are in the shape of Andy Brake, Maisey Bawden, David Burrows, James Darch, Vanessa Fisher, Aimee Hodnett, George Ioannides, Nathanael Landskroner, Joe Maxwell, Kieran McGinn, Corinna Powlesland, Rhys Whitfield and Michael James Stewart.  Who were all fantastic!

This production features a strong, varied and impressive storyline, which has been laced with some absolute hits from the 1980s, even at some points if the hits don't match up to the scene, you can't help but fall in love with the way this production has been creatively executed by Nikolai Foster and his team at The Curve. Plus, the standard of performance by the cast in this production takes it to another level.  An Officer and a Gentleman the musical, leaves you blown away in the theatre, it's a specticle you cannot miss, I rate this production 5/5 stars. Great touring entertainment.



For more information about the show and tickets, click the link below.