An Officer And A Gentleman

An Officer And A Gentleman

As Leicester Curve's production of An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical tours the UK, director Nikolai Foster says audiences are in for a surprise. "I think a lot of people associate it with being a cheesy 80s romcom," he smiles about the stage version of the iconic 1982 film. "There's nothing wrong with a cheesy 80s romcom - and we offer some tasteful cheesy choices in our production - but audiences will be surprised by the depth of this story and how moving the show is. It is genuinely uplifting because we invest in the lives of these characters and care about them."

It's the tale of hot-headed and determined Naval candidate Zack Mayo (played by Richard Gere in the movie) who has a fiery, passionate relationship with factory worker Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger on screen) before sweeping her off her feet in the soaringly romantic finale.

The original score has been swapped out for a fantastic soundtrack of 1980s hits by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, Kim Wilde, Madonna, Blondie and Martika as well as incorporating the worldwide smash hit Up Where We Belong from the movie.

As Nikolai feels: "Popular pop songs have helped to articulate the emotions of our characters. In some ways these appear to be ordinary and unremarkable lives but the characters created by Douglas Day Stewart (based on his own experiences) have remarkable stories to tell. When you throw a load of 80s pop hits into this world, it truly is uplifting and sings in the way only a musical can. The songs in our show express something of the characters' inner lives and emotions that they are unable to speak in their everyday lives. The music heightens the emotions."

The narrative is set in Pensacola, Florida, in the early 80s but the director notes: "Delicately depicting the experiences of working class people back then, the story continues to resonate. At a time when we are finally starting to consider what a fairer society could look like - with particular emphasis on womens rights, anti-racism and training opportunities available to those from disadvantaged backgrounds - this simple story still has much to say about our society today."

Taking on the leading role of Zack Mayo is "pretty major" for Luke Baker. "It's a massive role and I just want to make sure that I do it justice," says the actor who trained at ArtsEd and whose credits include Billy Elliot, Everybody's Talking About Jamie, American Idiot, Sunny Afternoon and Hairspray. "There's a lot for an actor to dig into because he's suffered loss and heartache, and now he's going through this tough training regime." 

Luke recalls seeing the film version when he was young and rewatched it after he landed the role. "And it's such a brilliant story. The characters, both in the film and the show, are really relatable and you've got the love story and all the struggles that go with it before the happy, stirring ending. Then on top of that you've got an amazing musical numbers and the iconic white suit."

He smiles. "It feels incredible to be wearing it and what [orchestrator and musical supervisor] George Dyer has done with Up Where We Belong is fantastic. It's so emotional and it blows people away. It's like being at a rock concert."

Can he relate to Zack? Luke smiles again. "Not directly, no. Well, I understand his competitiveness and wanting to prove himself, but I'm grateful that I don't have the family problems that he has. He's very determined, which I guess I am too, and it didcross my mind as a teenager to go into the army but I'm glad I didn't."

Having starred as Ren in Footloose on tour in 2016, Baker is excited to be taking An Officer and a Gentleman around the country, saying: "You've got a different opening night every weekand a completely different type of audience wherever you go, whether it's down South, up North or in Scotland. No two crowds are ever the same and it's great that people outside London get to see live theatre."

Luke's co-star Georgia Lennon sees Paula as a dream role, saying: "The thing that I love about her the most is how strong-willed she is and all the things that she stands for. She's all aboutgirl power. She knows what she wants and she's very sure of herself. She's a strong, independent woman."

Georgia agrees that the story has contemporary relevance because "the film was so ahead of its time in depicting that girl power theme". Paula shares a deep bond with her best friend Lynette, which is something that also chimes with the actress. "Friendships are so important to me and I'm really excited to be able to portray that dynamic on stage."

A graduate of Laine Theatre Arts, Lennon has previously appeared in Lady Chatterley's Lover, One Enchanted Evening, Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Beanstalk. Most recently, she originated the role of Marie Osmond for the world premiere tour of The Osmonds: A New Musical in 2022.

Like Luke, she's looking forward to being back on the road. "I love being in a new town or city every week. Heading back out on tour again, I know all of my favourite spots and I know people in all the different theatres, like the stage door and backstage staff."

She hadn't seen the film version of An Officer and a Gentleman until she went up for the part of Paula. "Then I watched it and I was like 'It's a role every girl would want to play'. As I say, she's such a strong character and there's that iconic moment when she gets swept off her feet at the end. I was sat there going 'God, I'd love to do this'."

As for why the story has endured, Georgia feels: "I think most people are hopeless romantics at heart and the ending makes everyone swoon. Then, of course, there's all that amazing music. I love that I get to sing Alone by Heart because it's such a big number. And doing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun as a duet between Paula and Lynette is such fun to perform."

Choreographer Joanna Goodwin promises people will leave the theatre with smiles on their faces, saying: "It's a hard-hitting story in places, just as it was in the film, but it's also joyful and heartwarming."

The 2018 production was done in a cinematic style, with lots of projections. "But this time we're making it into a full-blown musical in more of a traditional sense, with big numbers and production values," Joanna says. "That's the challenge for me, plus the fact the story takes quite a dark turn in the second act. It's about balancing that with the joyous moments."

Goodwin's numerous credits as choreographer and associate choreographer include Oliver!, Love Never Dies in Concert, Gypsy, Sunset Boulevard and Funny Girl. For her latest venture, audiences can expect a thrilling blend of 80s dance moves with choreographed military drills. "It's a combination of these two worlds - the girls who are out for a good time and the cadets who are being put through their paces. The cast need to be really fit for this show and we're working them hard."

Goodwin feels audiences are hungry for a musical like this. "At the moment everybody is grabbing onto that sense of nostalgia and anything that reminds them of a time where maybe they had more money or they were a little bit happier in their lives. And it's such an iconic story, isn't it? People look at the poster and go 'Oh, I know and I love it'. With the show, they're guaranteed a nostalgic good time and a great night out."

It's interesting to learn that the legendary closing scene in the film almost didn't happen because Richard Gere worried it contradicted the visceral grittiness of the rest of story. "In some ways he was right," Nikolai admits, "but its a moment of magical realism that celebrates the unspoken ambitions and hopes for a better future, which is something we can all relate to. Who doesnt have moments where wed like to escape to a better life?"

The director is keen to flag up all the people who have come together to make the show a reality, including Goodwin, orchestrator George Dyer, the writers, the team at Jamie Wilson Productions and everyone at Curve. "Through their creatives efforts," he says, "we hope audiences enjoy meeting these extraordinary characters and that they have a moving, hugely uplifting and fun night at the theatre."

Tickets for Grand Opera House Belfast available here

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