Theatre review: An Officer and a Gentleman


An Officer And A Gentleman

Playhouse, Edinburgh

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It’s such a profoundly 1980’s story that there’s no updating it; which is perhaps why this 2012 stage musical version of An Officer And A Gentleman, written by original author Douglas Day Stewart with Sharleen Cooper Cohen, offers a playlist of 20 classic anthems from the late 1970’s and 80’s, and just one original song.

Immortalised in the 1982 film starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, Day Stewart’s script tells the kind of American working class story that ends in a triumph of American values, rather than in tragedy; and it’s that combination of populism, patriotism and optimism that makes it a tale from the Reagan era, and no other.

It is, though, also a romantic fantasy of the most trashily irresistible kind, as working-class hero Zack Moyes, undergoing fierce naval pilot officer training in Florida, finds the woman of his dreams in bright, beautiful factory girl Paula, then almost loses her and his future, but finally comes through to sweep Paula radiantly out of the factory, and into their new life.

In Nikolai Foster’s fine production from The Curve, Leicester, featuring spectacular use of projected imagery to conjure up the times, Emma Williams turns in a terrific performance as Paula, with Jonny Fines less assured but equally hard-working as Zack.

And if the over-amplified music is sometimes dire, and the sub-plot involving Paula’s ambitious friend Lynette a shade more interesting than Zack and Paula’s super-
sexual romance, it’s still hard to resist a heroine who 
combines passion with such a gritty sense of pride, and whose duet on Don’t Cry Out Loud with her mother, a 
brilliant Rachel Stanley, leaves hardly a dry eye in the house.

At the Playhouse today, 7 July; also at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 10-15 September.

joyce mcmillan