An Officer and a Gentleman at Leeds Grand Theatre until 28 April

I approached this production not quite sure of what it was supposed to be. It is described as ‘An Officer and a Gentleman the Musical’.

Musicals usually fall into one of two categories; the juke box variant when popular songs are linked by the writing of a story, and ‘conventional’ ones where songs are written especially to enhance a story. This show is a mixture of both.  It is a well-known film given the soundtrack of pop songs. Does it work? Yes and no.

There were no programmes available last night, but I have been provided with an online link to it today. I am totally mystified by the director’s notes as I seem to have been watching a different show from the one he is writing about. He begins his article by writing ‘Filled with humility and quiet profundity An Officer and a Gentleman delicately charts the lives of working-class folk in Pensacola, Florida in the early 1980s…’  I am afraid that humility, quiet profundity and delicate charting were not in evidence. The story and associated songs were as delicate as an atom bomb, so much so that, in order to illustrate the way in which women were prevented from work progression, they had to abandon the eighties songbook and go back to 1966 for the James Brown track ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s World’ a song incidentally whose words were written by a woman.

Even the introductory song, In The Navy Now was a paraphrasing of the Bolland and Bolland penned In The Army Now, a hit for Status Quo. He also says ‘Coming at the end of the bitter and wasted years of the Vietnam conflict the movie…..’ The Vietnam War ended in 1975, quite a time before the ‘early 1980s’ – but of course this wasn’t a documentary.

The evening did not get off to the best of starts, with an announcement being made that owing to a technical difficulty the beginning would be delayed by a few minutes. There followed a film montage projected onto the scenery which lasted for a lot longer than was necessary. I suspect that this should have been shown as we were entering the auditorium.

The production was, as they would say in football, a game of two halves. I spent the interval wondering where on earth this was going and, more relevantly, why did they even set off on the journey in the first place. The second half improved somewhat as the pace picked up but it was still very bitty, comprising seventeen (yes I did count them) set pieces, making the whole thing seem like a succession of sketches and pop videos.

For those of you who, like myself, are not au fait with the film, it follows the induction course for US Navy pilots from raw recruits to qualified flying crew. The transition is hampered by the sadistic drill instructor who pushes them to the limit of their endurance. Inevitably some drop out but it is their back stories which are the substance of the piece. There are family relationship problems and two love stories, each involving girls from the local factory, one of whom sees her only escape route as being via marriage to a trainee pilot, and the other who wants to work her way out via a career in nursing.

The singing was absolutely superb, especially from the two leads, Emma Williams and Jonny Fines, and the other love interest couple played by Ian McIntosh and Jessica Daley. The acting was of a good standard, although one actor did suffer a couple of stumbles over his lines. The dancing worked well apart from some of the marching steps, which looked somewhat unmilitary. The other two things which fell a little short of expectations were the baseball swing of Ian McIntosh and an unconvincing fight scene between Messrs Fine and Shell.

I might not have been totally impressed by the show but a large part of the audience obviously was, as illustrated by the applause and loud cheering when one of the candidates was awarded their wings and informed that they would be flying jets. Perhaps it was a documentary after all.


Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living.  He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds.  He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.

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