Rehearsals week one – to begin at the beginning…

This is the first regular column in a series by cast member Alex Rathgeber (playing Sid Worley), who will be keeping us updated on the creative process and progress from the An Officer and a Gentleman rehearsal room…

Alex Rathgeber
Alex Rathgeber

Not every day as an actor is Day One of rehearsals for a world premiere musical adaptation of a major Hollywood classic. So it was with huge anticipation that I stepped into the rehearsal rooms at Sydney’s ABC studios last Monday, greeted by a sea of new cast-mates, creatives, producers, crew and production team as we arrived to commence the process of bringing to life the new stage musical An Officer And A Gentleman, all captured by a room full of media rolling and flashing cameras, no less.

Excitement was amplified by the fact that my journey with this show started two-and-a-half years ago with the first Australian workshop of the musical, followed by a further development workshop mid-2011. I was excited to reunite with the American writing team comprising Douglas Day Stewart, Sharleen Cooper Cohen, Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner, not to mention our Aussie creative team – director Simon Phillips, choreographer Andrew Hallsworth and music director Dave Skelton.

It was brilliant to see Ben Mingay, Amanda Harrison and Kate Kendall again after several months, having already spent some time together doing publicity and recording at the end of last year. And I had imagined what it would feel like to be together in the same room with the full cast and company making up this new ‘show family’…and it was nothing short of sensational. But the catch-ups and chat would have to wait…

Events kicked off at 10am sharp with a number of suitably ceremonious speeches from our producers John Frost and Sharleen Cooper Cohen, followed by Simon Phillips and the NSW Arts Minister, George Souris. Their speeches escalated an already palpable buzz. We busted out a very impromptu version of the well-loved song from the film Up Where We Belong, there was a frenzy of interviews and photos happening in each corner of the room, then the cameras and media entourage left the building, leaving the company to settle down to business.

We took a seat for individual introductions of everyone in the room and then Simon introduced our designer Dale Ferguson who gave a presentation of the show design. Referring to his incredibly detailed model, Dale spoke with Simon about the incredible challenge of creating a theatre set for the environments and locations used in this story. It looked sensational in miniature form, as I sat there imagining just how the design might look and feel when we’re standing and working on it in life-size in just a few weeks time.

The production management team handed us the most recently revised hot-off-the-press edition of the script, as Dave Skelton, more than ably assisted by Kellie Dickerson, started teaching us all our vocal parts, in order to be able to marry the new script with the latest score in a rough read-and-sing-through of the whole show the very next day. Needless to say, we had our heads buried in our music and script for the next 24 hours.

The read-through on Tuesday was fantastic. I just loved hearing the characters brought to life by this cast, with a script and score that have evolved significantly since 2009. The whole show has a much greater sense of fluidity, clarity and effectiveness.

From Wednesday onwards, Simon and the team had us up on our feet blocking chronologically from scene one. As my character doesn’t appear in the first couple of scenes, I wasn’t in the main room, I instead had music sessions and time to hit the gym and do some more circuit training in preparation for the physical demands of the many military drill scenes ahead of us. The boys who have fight scenes in the show had a whole afternoon of fight training with a specialist coach who taught them stage punches and kicks and throws etc – fairly punishing on the body even in simulation.

It was great to get on the floor in the main room with everyone on Friday and Saturday, with our associate director Dean Bryant having arrived too, to start playing and fleshing out the first scenes when our officer candidate characters are undergoing initiation of their 12-week training program at the naval base. It’s absolutely incredible to have the writers in the room, especially the writer of the original 1982 film, Douglas Day Stewart, a real living legend and the truest of gentlemen. Douglas, Sharleen, Ken and Robin have been there observing and absorbing the staging as it happens, ready to trial new ideas and possibilities with us, gradually deciding upon little tweaks and changes and incorporating them into the script and score. As anyone who’s worked on a big commercial musical of this scale would know, it takes a lot of time to carefully configure and finesse the complex design of so many technical elements involved.

We steadily worked through scenes three to seven, and by Saturday afternoon we were able to sketchily stumble our way from the overture through to the end of scene seven, which was a massive achievement, and it looked and sounded terrific. It’ll be great to continue blocking through the rest of Act One over the first few days of our second week.


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