There are certain chick flicks which seem to grow ever more popular with endless TV re-runs. And following the success of stage adaptations of Dirty Dancing, The Bodyguard and Mama Mia – and with a Broadway production of Pretty Woman about to open – it seems the timing is perfect for another.
This latest Richard Gere eighties classic to be resurrected comes in the form of a brand new production of An Officer And A Gentleman, one of the highest grossing films of all time. It premieres at Milton Keynes Theatre this week as part of a UK tour before a planned opening in the West End. The producers have confidently played the nostalgia card with the cast belting out non-stop eighties power ballads from the top of their industrial scaffolding and the smoke machines on overdrive.
The story follows a group of American Air Force cadets as they undergo their training at a navy base in the early eighties and reach for their dreams of becoming jet pilots. But the show also follows the lives of the girls at a nearby envelope factory who see marrying an officer as the only way to escape their dead-end lives. It seems some are desperate enough to do whatever it takes to get their man.
Unfortunately, the plot synopsis printed on all the leaflets for this show contains an enormous plot spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the film about something that happens quite near the end of the show, so I won’t repeat this here.
There are some fantastic performances from Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo who rolls into boot camp with a bit too much of a swagger and Ray Shell as drill Sergeant Foley who barks at the recruits with a convincingly terrifying degree of military authority.
Stealing the show, though, are the women in the cast who really belt out the eighties hits. Zack’s love interest, local girl Paula Pokrifki is played by four-time Laurence Olivier Award nominated actress Emma Williams who has an amazing voice. As does her mother Esther, played by Rachel Stanley, who really nails a bittersweet rendition of Kids In America about the Vietnam war.
As you often find with jukebox musicals, there are a few songs which have been shoehorned into the storyline – the lyrics to Heart’s classic Alone are changed subtly to make sense, but somehow the show even manages to make The Final Countdown feel meaningful. And, of course, there are some real classics like John Parr’s St Elmo’s Fire, Martika’s Toy Soldiers, Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Madonna’s Material Girl.
Plus, of course, the hit song which was actually in the movie ‘Up Where We Belong’ which plays at the end as one of the most iconic romantic scenes to be portrayed on screen is re-enacted on stage.
There is a scene near the beginning of the show set on a coach on the way to the army camp which has the characters bouncing around on chairs while one holds a big steering wheel was a little bit like school drama class but fortunately the quality improves quickly afterwards. With pristine whites costumes against gritty industrial greys of the army barracks, this is a stylish and well put together show, although there were a few technical issues which still need ironing out and fluffed lines.
This is a really fun musical with a great soundtrack which it’s difficult not to love. With some swearing and a few awkward sex scenes this is probably not a show for the whole family but anyone who remembers the eighties or loves the movie will be transported to a happy place. And there’s no pressure to stand up and dance at the end.
An Officer and a Gentleman is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 14 July.