Review: An Officer And A Gentleman ? A must-see even if you have not seen the film

Tensions run high between Zack and Paula.

Tensions run high between Zack and Paula. - Credit: Archant

Having never seen the movie, a musical version of An Officer And A Gentleman had not appealed to me before attending the opening night at the Bristol Hippodrome last night.

The cast of An Officer And A Gentleman.

The cast of An Officer And A Gentleman. - Credit: Archant

But I have to say I was so glad I went as it absolutely blew me away and is one of the best shows I have ever seen.

I am lucky enough to be able to see a lot of live theatre and my experience of first nights have generally been the cast need a bit of warming up, it feels like they are still rehearsing and it takes until the second half until their performance comes to life and they begin to relax and engage with the live audience.

But from the opening note to the closing sing-along with the audience of An Officer And A Gentleman, who were by then on their feet joining in, the performance was slick, professional, word and note-perfect and brimming over with drama and emotion.

If you are unfamiliar with the story as I was, it provides an uncompromising glimpse into working-class life in and around the American Air Force.

A tender moment between Zack and Paula.

A tender moment between Zack and Paula. - Credit: Archant

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Douglas Day Stewart wrote it after serving in the Air Force, and the tale revolves around the challenges he faced during officer training.

The musical is based on the 1982 Oscar-winning film starring Richard Gere, Debra Winger and Louis Gossett Jr, who won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, becoming the first African American to gain the accolade. This is ironic as one of the characters goes through a very similar journey in the storyline.

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The film is known to be one of the most romantic of all time, and the show’s finale, which the audience was eagerly awaiting with bated breath, was enthusiastically enjoyed.

The tale centres around Zack Mayo, who having suffered an unfortunate childhood where his mother died and his bully of a father had thrown himself into his own failed Naval career, disowning his son, decides to make something of himself by working hard and getting into pilot-training school.

Zack undergoes some rigorous training.

Zack undergoes some rigorous training. - Credit: Archant

But his troubled and solitary past begins to cloud his actions and judgement during training, which almost cost him his place and the love of the woman, who works in a nearby factory.

It is a deeply gritty, moving and powerful plotline which takes audiences through a gamut of emotions including anger, fear, sympathy, love, hate, empathy and ultimately, joy. The standard of acting is so brilliant you feel you are going on each character’s journey along with them and although sometimes I find my mind wanders off during a show, my eyes did not waver for a single moment from what was unfolding on stage. I would normally single-out actors for individual praise but the main cast, ably led by Jonny Fines as Zack, Emma Williams as his lover Paula, Ray Shell as drill instructor Foley, plus Ian McIntosh and Jessica Daley, all gave exceptional performances, as did the supporting actors.

The sets are superb and the scene changes flowed seamlessly throughout, from the mindless drudgery of the factory to the simplicity of a fire escape where much of the high drama takes place. A backdrop with a screen showing the recruits going through the rigours of physical training was especially poignant and worked well to portray just how tough it must be.

The musical is cleverly written with the struggles of each character set to a different 1980s power ballad which served to connect the audience, who are already familiar with the songs, to the show.

The cast of An Officer And A Gentleman.

The cast of An Officer And A Gentleman. - Credit: Archant

The choreography was on point and even the fighting and love scenes, which have a tendency to look staged sometimes, were perfectly believable, the latter even managed to portray a feeling of playful, tender intimacy and still smoulder, which cannot be easy in front of an audience of almost 2,000 people!

I loved it so much I now cannot wait to watch the film and only hope I enjoy it as much as the show.

An Officer And A Gentleman will be performed at the Bristol Hippodrome, in St Augustine’s Parade, until Saturday at 7.30pm, with 2.30pm matinees tomorrow (Wednesday) and Saturday.

Tickets, priced £19.40-62.40, are available from bristol-hippodrome or 08448 713012.

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