An Officer and a Gentleman – The Musical review at Curve, Leicester – ‘corny as hell, but loveable’
How can anyone resist the iconic climax from An Officer and a Gentleman, with Up Where We Belong blasting and love finding a way?
Richard Gere thought it was too sentimental when he starred as trainee pilot Zack in the 1982 film, but how can you not smile and be stirred by something as purely romantic as that?
Like the film, Curve’s stage production, adapted by original screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen, is corny a hell but knows it. Set to a soundtrack of 80s megahits, and bound for an extensive UK tour, the production combines commercial nous with a quality piece of musical theatre.
Although it follows a group of recruits in a naval training college, really it’s the women who steal the show – first in a stirring chorus of This Is A Man’s World, but then individually. A great deal of the story is about a group of factory women facing the inescapability of the pattern of their lives. Worked to the bone and paid very little, for some the only way out they can see is sleeping with an officer and dreaming that he’ll marry them.
Jonny Fines is good as Zack, but it is Emma Williams as his sweetheart Paula who really gets across that combination of desperation and dignity, as does Rachel Stanley as her mother. This pair, alongside Ian McIntosh as trainee pilot Sid, hoping to prove his worth to his unforgiving family, provide the emotional core of the piece, and combine stellar singing with strong acting.
At its least convincing – with a few odd song choices that add little to either story or atmosphere – the show can be like someone has left Magic radio on in the background. But, thanks to a track list that also includes one of the best songs of the 80s, John Parr’s St Elmo’s Fire, there’s little not to like.
Similarly, George Dyer’s orchestrations are varied. They veer between being a bit too karaoke to really exciting, such as a particularly nifty montage of the classic Jody call ‘I don’t know but I’ve been told’, which turns the normal 4/4 time into a disorienting 6/8. Kim Wilde’s classic Kids In America is also repurposed and slowed down to become a bitterly ironic lament for post-Vietnam USA sung by two middle-aged characters.
The colours of Michael Taylor’s excellent set and costumes – pristine whites and blues against industrial, army barrack grey – look stylish, particularly alongside Foster’s direction. His handling of scenes in cars is a bit basic, with someone holding a steering wheel and others pretending to be flung around, but when there are just a few people on stage he knows exactly where to put them to make the show look beautiful.
At one point, Williams, at the top of a scaffold and at the top of her voice, power ballads the hell out of Alone by Heart. It’s a powerful synthesis of singing, direction, set and lighting and the strongest moment in a show which, despite a few dodgy moments, is ultimately loveable and uplifiting.