THE 1982 film ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ showed a handsome profit for its producers, costing a mere six million dollars to make and taking $130 million at the box office. Those who mounted this revised musical version of the story earlier this year at the Curve Theatre Leicester, in a different format it previously had an unsuccessful production in Australia, may not be anticipating that sort of financial gain, but having given Michael Taylor a free hand with sets and costumes to ensure a fast slickly staged production they are obviously anticipating a handsome return on their investment once it finishes its short provincial tour and opens in London’s West End.
A hate to be a ‘wet blanket’ but despite a cast and musicians who, under director Nikolai Foster and musical supervisor Sarah Travis, attack the words and music with tremendous enthusiasm and energy and a savagery that makes you believe that they are waging a personal vendetta against them, this musical version of the story has a long way to go to match the quality of the filmed original.
So much of the dialogue is delivered at full volume, especially Ray Shell as the bullying instructor Sgt Emil Foley, a role that gave Louis Gossett Jr the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor to an African American actor, that this wonderful role was reduced to a one dimensional figure. Although Jonny Fines, following admirable in the footsteps of Richard Gere, as Zack Mayo the determined battler from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, and Ian Mcintosh as his tragic blue-blooded friend Sid Worley, took every opportunity to vairy their characters, they too were to some extent trapped in this relentless round of anger and aggression that the director appeared to demand.
Musically Emma Williams and Jessica Daley as the girls in Zack and Sid’s lives faced as similar challenge with virtually every number in which they were involved requiring them to demonstrate how powerful their lungs were rather than the quality of their singing. Despite this drawback they still managed to create powerful pictures of the genuine Paula who places Zack’s future ahead of her own happiness and Lynette whose selfishness finally pushes the mentally delicately balanced Sid over the edge into suicide.
Keisha Atwell as the only girl amongst this group of United States Navy Aviation Officer Candidates, and Darren Bennett, Zack’s slobbish professional sailor father both gave notice that there was much more to their characters than this constant ‘in your face’ production allowed them to show.
When the big production numbers came around the company attacked them with tremendous verve and vitality, but with sound designer Tom Marshall following the lead of the director and musical supervisor going for volume rather than any subtilty of tone only those who remembered the lyrics of these 1980s hits would have picked up all the words being sung.
This is a very good company and somewhere within this adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman there is a good musical well worth a visit, but if it is to light up London’s West End for any length of time, someone has to take a long hard look at the style of presentation now on offer.