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AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - THE MUSICAL
Review

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - THE MUSICAL

By Bryce Hallett
May 19 2012

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - THE MUSICAL. Lyric Theatre, May 18 - booking through to July 2012. Photos by Brian Geach: main pic - the company; right: Ben Mingay and Amanda Harrison.

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If ever there were a  popular film from the '80s which didn't naturally cry out to be adapted to the musical theatre stage it is surely the tough yet romantic An Officer and A Gentleman. Unlike movies such as Xanadu, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart's An Officer and A Gentleman lacks an innate musical rhythm, except for its  sentimental climax when the heroic Zack Mayo (Ben Mingay) plucks the downtrodden Paula (Amanda Harrison) from the factory floor for a rousing version of "Up Where We Belong".

That the signature song from the film is by far the most lyrical and memorable tune from the show makes one wonder how this thinly-plotted, largely unimaginative transformation got out of the workshop. The rock songs by composers and lyricists Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner are mainly banal and not especially tuneful although the musical director (Dave Skelton) and the cast at least try to give them some grunt. The opening sequence is a pale imitation of Miss Saigon and its scenes of chaos, military machismo and sleaze but without the urgency and fervour that made it so passionate and engaging. The scene introduces the young, all-but-abandoned Zack - nicely played and sung by George Cartwright on opening night - and clumsily attempts to establish the aspirational tone of the piece through the harsh-sounding, pithy songs "A Man Is", "Tough Town" and "I'm Gonna Fly".

On a utilitarian, constantly-revolving set designed by Dale Ferguson, the committed cast tries its level best to inject energy and life into proceedings but it proves to be as drill-like, gruelling and thankless a task as that faced by the motley naval recruits themselves. Where the director Taylor Hackford's 1982 movie romance starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger was credible, persuasive and stirring, this stage version, co-written by the original screenwriter and Sharleen Cooper Cohen, lacks the element of surprise, is short on emotional fireworks and fails to grasp theatrical opportunities to make it vivid and exciting. The script's overall lack of wit and warmth, and unnecessary repetition, does the cast few favours. 

Mingay is easy on the eye and has a solid baritone but his acting lacks sufficient light and shade and offers little in the way of character development given the arc of his personal journey. As his buddy Sid, Alex Rathgeber brings considerable nuance and humanity to the role and rises about the limits of the script. He is a keenly-observant, thoughtful musical theatre performer who inhabits a part without artifice. He also knows how to support his fellow actors in making the most of a scene.

The first act is a mish-mash of forgettable songs and efficient scenes darting between naval base, barracks and austere motel rooms. Director Simon Phillips manages to make it fairly seamless but there are few genuinely inventive touches. The only time it begins to soar is when the superb voices of Mingay and Harrison combine for the much-welcome and melodic "If You Believe In Love The Way I Do". The overlong and at times dreary first half ends with a thud and the prospect of Zack being given the flick for conduct unbecoming of a (potential) officer and a gentleman.

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - THE MUSICAL

As the audience settles back after interval it is greeted by a colourful yet curiously aimless salsa sequence in TJ's Bar, no doubt to give the ensemble something to do and the promise of greater excitement to come. Fortunately Act 2 is superior to the first if only because the emotional stakes are higher and the enveloping blue skies turn decidedly darker as romances are torn apart and individuals are denied their dreams. Temporarily for the protagonists of course; after all, this is a musical and a wish-fulfilment tale at heart.

The action moves fluently between barracks, obstacle course, motel rooms, parade ground and factory floor with the help of neon signs and an almost unrelenting revolve that joins up all the moving parts and disgorges characters on cue. The production, however, is not spectacular and expense has been spared.

One of the most effective scenes, beautifully lit by the talented Matt Scott, comes when the recruits turn out one by one in their dress whites; an appealing visual counterpoint to the earlier rough-hewn line-up of hopeful recruits and the ritualistic humiliations inflicted by Sergeant Foley, splendidly played by Bert LaBonte. He brings the crude "barking orders" caricature to shrewd, resourceful life, his presence and robust singing a cut above many others in the cast.

Harrision, too, shines on the musical side of the equation, especially in the duet "A Glass Half Full" and the spirited "Wings of My Own". By this point in the journey the orchestra has already flagged the big finale number but when it finally arrives it appears tacked on, manipulative and rushed. 

If only there were more sparks between Mingay and Harrison but there's no denying that "Up Where We Belong", written by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie, still packs a feel-good punch and ultimately rescues this lacklustre, jingoistic show from the doldrums. 

 

 

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