Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, The Musical – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, The Musical – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

By Nick Mabey. 

Opening night of a five-show stint at The Mayflower, Southampton and a near-capacity crowd was treated to an enthusiastic and emotional performance of the adapted iconic 1980’s film (25/6/24).

An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical was conceived and first performed in 2012. After a stop-start history, the 2024 version (by Curve Productions) has embarked on a mammoth UK-wide tour, of which Southampton is the fifteenth location.

I must admit to wondering how An Officer and a Gentleman might work as a stage play, and particularly as a musical. My memory is of a pretty dark film not naturally given to bursts of song. You could describe Les Miserables and Blood Brothers (two of my favourites) in a similar way, but they had the benefit of songs written specifically for the plot. Here the music, mostly classic 80’s anthems, has been retro-fitted to supplement the story. While it’s true to say the film had a similar soundtrack, Richard Gere was not asked to sing his way through Zack Mayo’s trials and tribulations. Of the twenty-odd well-chosen songs we were treated to, only a few appeared in the film, including of course Up Where We Belong.

This was definitely a play of two halves. Act One saw us introduced to the characters, all of whom had a traumatic back story. Switching between the naval academy, the paper factory where all the women worked and the local bar, the action ambled along in a pleasant and engaging way. Ronald Reagan’s 80’s Americana was writ large across every moment as we were set up for what was to follow. Act Two was a whole different ball game. I won’t spoil the plot for those who don’t know the film, but for those who do let’s just say this musical remained true to the original source. The mood got darker, the songs became more meaningful and I’ll own up to shedding a tear twice as we headed toward the iconic denouement. The versions of Kids in America, I am Woman and Family Man in particular were beautifully poignant and tugged at the heart strings.

It was testament to the writing, by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen, that we didn’t lose some of the socio-cultural themes of the original material. Class and gender issues in particular were attended to, and the characters were given depth and colour so that the audience were able to stay engaged when the narrative became less frothy and more troubling. It also wasn’t lost on me that we were seeing the United States at a particular moment in time, toward the end of the Cold War, when films such as An Office and a Gentleman trumpeted the America Dream and helped create its position as sole global superpower. Comparing that to how I see the same country today had me feeling a little nostalgic and sad.

The cast was exceptional and it was hard to pick a stand-out vocal performance (so I won’t).  Supported by a band rather than an orchestra, there was a rawness to the sound that added to the downtrodden, trauma-laden action. The set was creative and visually striking, and the modern penchant for scenery-moving being part of the action was well executed.

I’m guessing most of the audience had seen the film because there were gasps and applause before we even arrived at the pinnacle moment, for which the original film was most famous.  It’s a fitting, and extremely satisfying, end to a performance where everyone gave their all and were rewarded with a standing ovation.

You can see An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical at Southampton’s Mayflower theatre from 26th to 29th June, details here.

  • Images by Marc Brenner.
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