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An Officer and a Gentleman – World Premiere

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An Officer and a Gentleman
on Friday 18 May 2012
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Amanda Harrison and Ben Mingay in An Officer and a Gentleman

Amanda Harrison and Ben Mingay in An Officer and a Gentleman. Image by Brian Geach

While it is thrilling that Australia is rapidly becoming recognised as a great place to try out Broadway shows, and that our actors and creatives are considered to be of a high standard, and it is wonderful to see world premieres of shows happening right here in our own backyard, the fact remains that some properties are just not strong enough for the stage.

An Officer and a Gentleman is fairly faithful to the 1982 film (including leaving in its cultural insensitivity: racial slurs used as endearments; homophobia, and sexism) but the problem is that the film – Academy Award winning and a critical darling of its time – was gritty, emotive, and had plenty to say. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for this new adaptation.

The musical doesn’t really have much to say at all. It tells the same story of Zack Mayo (a buff and capable Ben Mingay), his struggle through Naval officer training, and his meeting of down to earth factory girl Paula (Amanda Harrison, with soaring vocals). But it’s just a run of the mill love story. Zack’s alienation, insecurity, and loneliness feels more like a bad mood than anything of substance, and Paula’s no-nonsense attitude is buried under the actions of a deep romantic who marks her first solo vocals by singing about how she believes in love. She is pigeon-holed as a love interest, and it’s a shame to see.

Kate Kendall and Alex Rathgeber An Officer and a Gentleman

Kate Kendall and Alex Rathgeber An Officer and a Gentleman. Image by Brian Geach

The subplot featuring the underused and underrated Alex Rathgeber as Sid and sultry Kate Kendall as Paula’s friend Lynette has strong potential for real drama, tension, and emotion, but instead feels like a matter only for the background until, when it is centre-stage and very important, it’s too late for us to want to care about the characters. Some of the audience on opening night laughed during Sid’s moments of deep despair, and that is telling.

Maybe that disconnect can be attributed to the music. The score (by Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner) is bland and predictable, and the sound in itself lacked clarity. The songs sounded like indistinguishable rock noise. This would be forgivable if the score had promise to it, if the songs were solid in ways other than melodic – if the lyrics were clever, or insightful, or plot-driven. But that’s the problem. Rather than aid the development of the story or encourage action, the vast majority of songs in An Officer and a Gentleman seem to serve no purpose. The action is effectively halted for four or five minutes for someone to warble prettily or grittily, and then it all resumes again once the applause dies down. The device of song – the whole point of musical theatre – is nowhere near effectively used.

Bert LaBonte and Ben Mingay in An Officer and a Gentleman

Bert LaBonte and Ben Mingay in An Officer and a Gentleman. Image by Brian Geach

The one exception to this is Bert LaBonte’s gruff drill instructor character Sgt Foley, whose song ‘I’ll be Damned’, and it’s reprise, actually show some kind of glimpse inside the gruff and hard, overbearing character, explaining his motivations and intentions. It’s the one time that this show actually feels like a musical, rather than a movie with frequent ad-breaks of radio-ready pop-rock. The standing ovation started with LaBonte’s bow and he earned it, delivering a three-dimensional and compelling performance that leapt off the stage. He’s a welcome breath of fresh air and exciting to watch.

The cast as a whole is talented, that’s undeniable. The singing is note-perfect and the dancing is well-executed and good-looking. Choreographer Andrew Hallsworth brought military precision into group numbers and it worked. George Cartwright opened the show as an appealingly wide-eyed and innocent young Zack, Tara Morice and Amanda Harrison as mother and daughter even share a sincere moment with second-act number ‘Wings of my Own’. Ben Mingay sang his heart out with the gusto you would expect from such a seasoned performer, and Kate Kendall offered winsome charm as scheming Lynette. But.

But the energy of the piece as a whole didn’t seem at any point to take off. It started in the middle and stayed there. I don’t think it was any coincidence that the audience erupted into applause when the finale was upon us, and the vibrant ‘Up Where We Belong’ began, in a representation of the film’s most iconic scene. Something finally connected – even if it was only nostalgia, and even if only for a minute.

Maybe that will be enough.

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Cassie has written 477 articles on AussieTheatre
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  • Chez

    I would actually agree with Cassie’s review of the show, although never having seen the movie all I had to go on was the musical and perhaps my enjoyment of the musical was because of this fact. 
    It surprises me that nothing is said of the seemingly comical ‘fight’ moments in the opening scenes. Highly unnecessary and when aimed at the young Zac, quite perplexing!
    Although going to one of the final preview nights, I imagine it was as good as the Opening night, cudos though for the set design…to alter the feeling of the set with the move of a few props and the scaffolding was simple yet worked well.
    If you are looking for a good night out, with some enjoyable singing I would still recommend going to the show, especially if you have never seen the movie!

  • Maria Lawrie

    I have seen the show five times and have loved it each time.  I intend to go and see it again. I can’t believe you have condemned it because it follows the story line in the film.  What were they supposed to do, re-write the story only to be condemned once more for not staying true to the original story?  I can only assume that you have become numbed from seeing too many musicals.  I think the music is true to the story line and don’t understand where you are coming from.  It is not all “pop rock” and I didn’t see one ad break.  

    I’m also confused about the people laughing during “Sid’s deep despair”.  Those sitting near me were in tears.  I was there on opening night  and again tonight and I did not hear anyone laugh.  

    I’m glad you agree that the cast is talented – that is an understatement.  We are blessed in this country with amazing talent.

    Maybe you should go back and see it again and appreciate it for what it is.

    • Katie

      Ms Tongue is not the only reviewer to have felt this way about this show, most of the critics agree, and it is completely unacceptable for you to personally attack her. If you like the show that’s great, put your money where your mouth is and support it by going again, for your sixth and seventh and eighth times and tell your friends it’s awesome and to go as well. Your passion for the show is admirable, but leaving a nasty comment on a review is not the way to go about showing your support.

    • Pctune

      If you’ve seen it 5 times, you’re clearly involved in the production (or know someone who is). Be a professional and let all opinions have their voice without attack…

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  • Stephan Holmes

    I am 59 years old and started going to musicals from about the age of 10. I have seen most productions staged in this country. I have traveled to London and the West End and in the last decade have been to NYC at least once a year, having seen in excess of 250 shows on and off Broadway.
    I can state quite firmly, “An Office and a Gentleman” is the worst thing I have seen – ever. I had not seen the movie so could judge it on its own merits (or lack of). The score was non existent and the lyrics trite. Songs were totally lacking any melody. The book was clunky and cliche ridden. With the exception of the dance sequence which opened the Second Act, the choreography was an unmemorable as the score.
    While it would be great to say the debacle was overcome by the usual talent of Australian performers this was not the case. Ben Mingay looked and sounded like an overgrown oaf. I don’t think Amanda Harrison has recovered her voice after singing Elphaba so many times, and as for Tara Morice – what a waste.
    The only performer on stage who looked as if they could have been a triple threat was Josef Brown.
    I have followed the career and many successes of John Frost and admire him greatly for his passion and what he has given Aussie theatre. I simply can’t believe he thought this show had what it takes to work. It is (the reported) $6M down the drain. So many try so hard to give this country a viable music theatre industry. This debacle has set the effort back by years.