Tuesday, May 22, 2012

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN


Book by Douglas Day Stewart & Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Music and Lyrics by Ken Hirsch & Robin Lerner
Produced by Sharleen Cooper Cohen & John Frost
Directed by Simon Phillips
Set and Costumes designed by Dale Ferguson
Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth
Lyric Star, Sydney.

Reviewed by  Bill Stephens

The latest big-scale musical to have its world premiere in Sydney, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is a stirring, often moving staging of the story of a young trainee Navy fighter pilot who falls in love with a girl who works in a factory.  It’s a story that became a hit film in 1982, notable especially for the song “Up Where We Belong” which has been retained in this stage version, but augmented with a lush new score by Ken Kirsch and Robin Lerner.

Those familiar with the movie will be struck by how closely this stage adaptation follows the original storyline, and how seamlessly and effectively the music is incorporated into the show. Those who have never seen the film are likely to find themselves swept away by the sheer strength of the romantic storyline.

Simon Phillips certainly knows how to move and focus a show and how to inspire superb performances from his cast.  Taking full advantage of Dale Ferguson’s  mesmerizingly  fluid set of metal staircases and walkways which continually revolve into different positions to provide the many locations required by the story, he keeps the action flowing and the mind and eyes engaged. Everything serves the story.
Amanda Harris and Ben Mingay
Photo:Brian Geach

As Zack and Paula, the couple at the centre of the story, Ben Mingay and Amanda Harrison are superb casting.  Mingay perfectly captures the macho toughness of the angry young Zack Mayo, who aspires to rise above his sordid upbringing in the “sewers” of Subic Bay. The role is demandingly physical and requires Mingay to engage in several strenuous choreographed training sessions and a couple of fist fights, yet still keep enough vocal sting in reserve for the big “Up Where We Belong” finale number.   All of which he does brilliantly.
Also totally convincing is  Amanda  Harrison , as the independently -minded young factory worker, Paula Pokrifki,  who dreams of becoming a nurse and finding a better life without selling out for it, like everyone around her.  The chemistry between Harrison and Mingay is electric, especially in the beautifully staged   “If You Believe in Love” number.

Bert LaBonte and Ben Mingay
Photo: Brian Geach

Among the strong supporthing cast Bert LaBonte is a standout as the tough drill sergeant, Emil Foley, managing to invest a fairly stock role with unexpected warmth and humanity.
Alex Rathgeber impresses as Zack’s best friend, Sid Worley, prone to making wrong decisions with tragic results. His tender singing of “Be My Wife” in the second act is one of the show’s many highlights.
Kate Kendall, as Sid’s girlfriend, Lynette Pomeroy, provides a memorable, carefully - judged performance which beautifully captures the tragic hopelessness of her failure to marry a flier to escape her dead end life.
Kate Kendal and Alex Rathgeber
 Brian Geach

Bartholomew John, superb as Zack’s  profligate father, Tara Morrice,  as Brenda’s mother, and  Josef Brown, Zahra Newman and Josh Piterman as various of Zack’s classmates all give strong believable performances.

While many will be attracted to “An Officer and a Gentleman”  because of the hit song “Up Where We Belong”,  the new songs by Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner fit so seamlessly into the storyline that, having seen the show,  it will be hard to imagine “An Officer and a Gentleman” without them,  especially given the clever way in which the composers reclaim the show by smoothly segueing from “Up Where We Belong”  into the lovely “If You Believe in Love”  during the finale so that its  “If You Believe in Love” you leave the theatre singing.

 “I’m Gonna Fly” and “Be My Wife” also have the potential to become major hits once the cast album is released,  while  others including  “Halfway”,  snappily choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth, linger in the mind.

Does “An Officer and a Gentleman” work as a musical?  Absolutely !  In fact, so well that it will be hard to watch the movie again without expecting the musical numbers. 

Ben Mingay and Amanda Harrison
Photo: Brian Geach

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