An Officer and A Gentleman

Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

The Company Credit: Manuel Harlan

The business of turning well-known films into musicals for the stage (think Dirty Dancing, The Bodyguard and even The Lion King) seems to be paying dividends for Douglas Day Stewart who converted his own experiences as a Naval Officer Cadet to screenplay and, since 2002, has worked with Sharleen Cooper Cohen on nailing it for the stage.

The storyline may be thin and predictable and many of the musical numbers somewhat shoehorned in but an enthusiastic cast, some fine voices and an audience knowing exactly what they expect elicit standing ovations aplenty.

Director Nikolai Foster knows how to make a scene work and his ensemble placements are a delight, although the overlong fight scene is dire.

Jonny Fines brings a touch of James Dean to the brooding misfit Mayo, son of a whore-chasing alcoholic and all-round nasty bloke (Darren Bennet who provides an interestingly sleazy twist on "Kids In America"). Believably the underdog at Pensacola’s flight education school, Mayo will wheel and deal to get where he wants to be.

And he is not the only one. On the other side of the tracks is the paper bag factory where jaded women will do anything to escape the inevitable mundanity and put their middle finger up to dead-end Pensacola, and they have just 12 weeks in which to snare a white-uniformed ticket out of the alcohol-ridden armpit of the world.

Inevitably buddying up with angst-ridden Admiral’s son Sid (lovely mellow tones from Ian McIntosh) and with sassy would-be nurse Paula (Emma Williams) catching Mayo’s eye, passion, privilege and poignancy are covered. Add to the mix a heap of stereotypes—feisty ghetto girl (Keisha Atwell) with sky high ambition for a bit of gender politics, the older candidate (Andy Barke), a pinch of Hispanic (George Ioannides) and a textbook Sarge (Ray Shell)—and the scene is set for clichés galore. And quite a lot of swearing and sex.

Williams—what a voice with "Don’t Cry Out Loud" particularly memorable—is stand-out in her portrayal of ready-for-a-romp Paula who has her own plans for escape and no man will get in her way unlike best mate blonde bombshell Lynette (Jessica Daley) whose desperation knows no bounds. Aunt and Mum (the wonderfully big-voiced Corinna Powlesland and Rachel Stanley) are down-at-heel role models of the inevitable: boozy, broken and trapped.

All the better for some tweaks by George Dyer and tight control of the tremendous live band by musical director Michael Riley, variations on plenty of '80s hits (including "Heart of Glass", "St Elmo’s Fire", "The Final Countdown", "In The Navy Now" and, of course, "Up Where We Belong") pack familiarity and some oomph—none more so than a fab rendition of "It’s a Man’s World" by the factory women, complete with percussive paper bags.

Bringing the big screen to the small stage is a challenge which designer Michael Taylor overcomes by bringing film on board—backdrops are effective projections moving the action from water’s edge motel, assault course, to inside the escape tank and more—with battleship grey barracks, industrial metalwork and a versatile towering iron staircase dominating.

Corny it may be, but a talented cast and musicians lift the weak book and it’s really quite entertaining. Ideal bums-on-seats summer escapism.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell