An Officer and a Gentleman

The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham


A smash hit film, a script awash with enough hits from the 70s and 80s to fill a double album of memories, all ending with one of the cinema’s most iconic numbers, one which had sported the unlikely pairing of Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, all wrapped around a romantic drama of would be Top Guns and small town girls. So what’s not to like?

Well, we’ll come to that later. Based on the 1982 film the story is simple all set around an Aviation Officer Candidate School, where wannabe US Navy fighter jet pilots arrive for a gruelling 12 week course aimed for make ‘em or break ‘em.

They are under drill instructor Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, played with a permanent in yer face snarl and apparent mean streak by Jamal Crawford – he’s a master of tough love we are to discover.

Among the hopefuls are Casey Seegar, Zack Mayo and Sid Worley. Casey, played with lovely sass and spirit by the diminutive Olivia Foster-Brown, comes from a black district of Los Angeles, earning her the unwanted slur of a nickname of Ghetto Girl from Foley.

Then there is Sid, son of an Admiral (which admiral would call their son Sid? Just asking) played low key, perhaps a little too low, by Paul French, reluctantly following a family tradition with a family tragedy weighing him down.

Family tragedies seem to be the fashion when we come to rough and ready Zack Mayo, played with suitable bolshy bravado, self sufficiency and self doubt by Luke Baker.

Zak is perhaps one of the more fleshed out characters. Having lost his mother in the US he was brought up, in its loosest sense, on a US navy base in the Philippines by petty officer father, Byron, played by Tim Rogers, who made it clear the last thing he was looking for was a son he didn’t want cramping his hedonistic life of drinking and whoring. 


Georgia Lennon as Paula and Luke Baker as Zak. Pictures: Marc Brenner

Back at the officer school, off base we have small town America where the men, at least some of them, resent the posh-boy graduates aiming on becoming the next Maverick and Iceman, and we have the women, who all seem to work in the local brown envelope factory.

It seems many a young wage slave sees any would be Top Guns as their ticket to not so much a better life as just any life in the world outside. Tickets could often be applied for horizontally, apparently.

So, when new best buddies Zak and Sid go to a local dance, cupid tags along and Sid ends up with the flighty Lynette Pomeroy, given a sexy come-on by Sinead Long. When it comes to men Lynette, who oozes sex appeal, has a distinct type - any officer off to fly jets. That's it - and setting her sights on an admiral’s son is merely an added bonus.

In a way they are made for each other, both living lies with families shaping lives from which they are both seeking escape.

Rough and ready loner Zak, hustler Zak, falls for Paula Pokrifki who is the real girl next door type in the delightful hands of Georgia Lennon. While Lynette’s ambition is escape from their one horse town to see the world, Paula just wants to graduate as a nurse, working in the factory to pay for her tuition.

She sees the steady influx of officer candidates as no more than a chance of fun, a diversion from her routine life, nothing serious, no devious plans to grab one for escape. Her boy meets girl it seems runs in 12 week episodes . . . until Zak.

Her mother Esther, a wonderful performance from Melanie Masson, warns her daughter of caution, speaking with a voice of experience with a story to be told as the musical progresses, one of many a tale we discover as characters come under the spotlight.

And let’s not forget this is a musical with some big number ensemble pieces and fine solos from, in particular, the four leads, while Melanie and Wendy Harriot as Aunt Bunny can really belt out a song with Bunny sporting a real queen of soul voice deserving more than she is offered here.


The ladies in the envelope factory objecting to the man's world they live in

Musical highlights include a gentle version of Foreigner’s I want to know what love is from Zak and Paula, Alone, best known as the Heart version power ballad, from Paula, Sid and Lynette and Esther and Paula gave us a fine rendition of Helen Reddy’s I am woman.

We have hits from the likes of Bon Jovi (Livin’ on a prayer), James Brown (It's a Man's Man's Man's World), Blondie (Hearts of Glass), Material Girl (Madonna) and Europe (The Final Countdown) among a host of others keeping the memories flowing of a youth gone by all ending with the iconic Up Where We Belong which only made it into the film as time had run out to find a theme song and there was nothing else around.

The string of hits is given rock star treatment by a five piece band under musical director Christopher Duffy while a quiet lounge piano version of Up Where We Belong is a constantly appearing theme in the background.

The set from Michael Taylor is a deceptively simple affair with a tower serving as a staircase and a hotel, roll on and off factory the local bar, with some of the world’s worst pool players, a motel bedroom and Paula’s home for an ill fated family dinner with Zak.

It allows scenes to flow into each other without a break augmented by Ben Cracknell’s clever lighting design – whatever did we do before computers and LEDs,

This was only the fourth performance at the start of a tour which is booked in to November and the Curve in Leicester has a well-deserved reputation as a producing theatre under its internationally renowned artistic director Nikolai Foster. He and the theatre have many an award winning production under their belts, so the musical deserves allowances on such stellar reputations.

Productions at the start of tours often need time to bed in, to develop slickness and that easy, confident manner, time to find their comfort zone. Press night ended with a standing ovation but that did not hide the fact that the American accents were not always fully convincing and there were too many instances where dialogue came over as noises rather than words, which suggests a tweak to sound settings or a gentle word with certain actors on what my old English teacher called indistinct articulation.

Missing dialogue was a common comment at the interval. It was an irritation rather than an inconvenience, the story, after all, is hardly Chekov or Ibsen so actions and attitudes filled in the simple plot adequately for the words missed

To be fair, it is still a watchable and largely enjoyable show, as you would expect from Foster, and although it might not yet be quite up where it belongs all the elements are there for it to get there as it settles down. To 02-03-24.

Roger Clarke


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