The jukebox musical has become something of a cultural phenomenon. This summer, the second instalment of the Mamma Mia franchise has taken cinemas by storm, introducing Abba classics to a new generation and providing older audiences with a nostalgic treat.
An Officer and a Gentleman, which opened at the Marlowe on Monday, offers a similar formula. Instead of Abba, we are treated to a whole host of eighties classics, from Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” to Madonna’s “Material Girl”.
For those of you that remember the 1982 film starring Richard Gere, the story will be familiar. Zack Mayo, played here by the excellent Jonny Fines, has enrolled as a U.S. Navy officer cadet.
He has a chequered past, drives a motorbike, and sees his fellow cadets as competition rather that comrades.
The hopeful cadets must deal not only with their overbearing sergeant, but with the advances of the local girls, intent on snaring an officer as a way out of their dull lives working at the local paper mill.
The gender politics that runs through the play feels a little out-of-date, even for the eighties!
The whole production feels more suited to a fifties setting, but then this isn’t a production that should be judged on its plot. Like the 80s love ballads it draws on so heavily, it is melodramatic, cliched, and thoroughly enjoyable.
The production is polished, with excellent performances from the lead characters.
There are several stand out moments, including a rousing rendition of Heart’s classic ballad, “Alone”, by the excellent Emma Williams who plays Zack’s girlfriend Paula and the ensemble performance of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”.
The severe Sergeant Foley is arguably the most endearing character of the show. The role earnt Louis Gossett Jr an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1982. And here it is very ably played by Ray Shell, who captures the hardness, the humour and, ultimately, the compassion required.
And of course, there’s THE final scene. As final scenes go this is arguably the cheesiest of them all. But the audience which rose as one to applaud it weren’t complaining.