An Officer and A Gentleman – the musical is another roaring soaraway success for Curve Leicester and its artistic director Nikolai Foster. The sky’s the limit for this, five star – brilliantly crafted – world premiere. It is a Made At Curve production and about to jet off on tour. Its present and future success is testament to the hard graft and teamwork of its creators; its casting and the support of the audiences who come to see the show. The producers are Jamie Wilson with Gavin Kalin, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Anthony Clare and Broadway Baby Productions.
The An Officer and A Gentleman‘s book is by film screenwriters Douglas Day Stewart & Sharleen Cooper Cohen. The Curve choreography is by Kate Prince and the Musical Supervisor is the, always splendid, award winning Sarah Travis. Orchestrations and arrangements are by George Dyer.
Exactly as in the film, the 1982 based story, follows Zac Mayo (Jonny Fines) and other recruits and would be Navy Pilots following a tough US Navy Pilot training programme at the United States Naval Aviation Training Facility in Florida. The overriding ambition is to get to fly the jets and be respected as an officer. Each character carries their own aspirations and personal issues but few of them reckon with the rigorously tough training given by drill sergeant Foley (Ray Shell). They are tested to the limit not only physically but mentally too.
Recreationally, there is the chance of romance with one of the local ladies or at least to get laid. For the ladies who work in the dispiriting paper bag factory, at Pensacola Florida, with little chance of promotion in a chauvinistic world, their aspirations lay in bagging one of the trainee officers and jetting off to a better world. This is the 1980s and as anti-feministic as it sounds, the general perception of the characters is that the only way for a woman to get on in life is through the achievements of a man. But, optimistically, not all of the female characters follow this line of thought and seeing this contradiction played out, is part of the enjoyment of the show. The core premise of the story is about working class people working hard to better themselves and the lives of those around them through hard work and ambition in times when America had only recently come out, very badly wounded, from the Vietnam war.
An Officer and A Gentleman – the musical is subtly interlaced with twenty three songs from the 1980s and all appropriate for the telling of the story and the concerns of its characters. This is no jukebox musical and the songs work really well, informing and as well as entertaining. They range from ‘St Elmo’s Fire’, ‘In The Navy Now’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Kids In America’ to ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, ‘On The Wings of Love’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’, ‘Up Where We Belong’ and ‘Alone’. They are all beautifully sung by the excellent cast and add much to the telling of the story and this avenue of approach surpasses even the film. So, if you are thinking whether it might be as good as the film – it is better!
This really is a top class, top gun, musical theatre production by Curve and the entire cast are universally superb. Emma Williams (Paula Pokrifki) and Jonny Fines (Zak Mayo) are dream team casting, each handling their roles with sensitivity and guts and both with excellent command of their songs and intimacies. Jessica Daley (Lynette Pomeroy) and Ian McIntosh (Sid Worley) are electric together: Daley showing us the stronger yet desperate woman that Pomeroy is and her softer side too; McIntosh totally believable as the trainee pilot with a romantic heart but struggling on the tough pilot training programme and unexpected outcomes of his romance with Miss Pomeroy.
Other stand out roles are Ray Shell’s Sergeant Foley commanding the stage as the tough but likeable military trainer. For those of you who remember Shell’s sensitive performance as Rusty in Starlight Express his superbly drawn drill Sergeant Foley is completely on the other side of the tracks. It is a large cast in which the marine recruits are really well drilled and authentic.
This reviewer loved the female players namely Keisha Atwell as raw and immensely likeable recruit Casey Seegar with her own private issues around women never getting the opportunity to fly the jets in a predominantly male controlled world. Her character is the underdog we all root for. Rachel Stanley (Esther Pokrifki) and Corinna Powlesland (Aunt Bunny) are excellent as the two working class factory workers who have experienced the desire for an officer to sweep them away to a better place and lost. Both have very strong presence in the show as well as great voices.
There are a few of the cast that have migrated from Curve’s 2017 Winter production of Scrooge the musical – also directed by Nikolai Foster – and those are Joe Maxwell (Fin Hooper), Nathanael Landskroner (Craig) and Darren Bennett (Brian Mayo). Bennett is superb as the embittered father of Zak Mayo always putting his son down due to the overriding failure of his own Navy career and drunken whoring lifestyle. This part is built up more than in the film and Bennett’s periodic presence on stage being critical and negative of his son’s ambitions really helps us to understand Zac’s mentality and violent reactions to events that cross him in life.
The set changes are momentous and ultra slick taking us, in the blink of an eye, from location to location, even at one point to a sea shore motel with the rolling tide of the sea very evident in the background as it laps the shores. Theatre presentation has really progressed over the years to the point where we can enjoy this quality of multi-media live on stage. Much use is made of pre-filmed aspects of the story and serve to give us a enlarged aspect of the story telling as well as some thrilling visuals. They also serve to offer us a connection with the historical back stories, so important to An Officer and A Gentleman. These are strongly effected by a combination of brilliant creative talents Ben Cracknell (Lighting Designer), Douglas O’Connell (Projection Designer), Michael Taylor (Set & Costume Designer). Equally important is the element of sound in this show which is wonderfully balanced and created by sound director Tom Marshall.
The overall story only gains from Curve’s presentation and inclusion of songs in part or whole and is definitely a ‘go see’. Even from the previews the production has been receiving nightly standing ovations. This press night is no different and there is thunderous applause and yet another standing ovation as the audience spring to their feet as if voluntarily catapulted from fighter jet ejector seats. An Officer and A Gentleman – the musical should look forward to many more proverbial victory rolls as it flies off on its nationwide tour.
Very highly recommended.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe.