Wednesday, 30 May 2012

An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical (30th May 2012)

After getting a quick bite for dinner at The Star Cafe Court, we headed to Sydney Lyric Theatre to find our seats in time for the 8pm show start of An Officer and a Gentleman: The Musical. Cost us $233.25 for 2 seats in the stalls - we were pretty much right in the middle and only about 6 rows away from the stage. For a mid-week show, the theatre was quite empty. The dress and upper circles were literally deserted, and the stalls half-filled with a majority of the audiences aged 50 and above. I wondered why the musical would attract an older crowd and then the thought occurred to me that the movie (of the same title which the musical was based on) was made famous back in the 80s when these older folk were in their heydays. Though I was less than 2 years old when the movie was released, I have seen the movie in later years and distinctively recall the main character of the drama film was Richard Gere playing a US navy aviation candidate. Oh, and not forgetting its Academy Award winning theme song "Up Where We Belong" - an image of Richard Gere picking up his love interest in the final scene of the movie comes to mind whenever I hear it. One of the great things about living in a big city like Sydney is that there is so much going on - festivals, musicals, theatre, gigs, etc. We are very fortunate to be the city to premiere this new musical and I'm very glad I could be a part of supporting its early goings! 

The show began with a scene from the back streets of Manila, neon lights illuminated in the dark and hookers beckoning sailors to their lair. Young Zack Mayo, whose mother had committed suicide, arrives in this city to live with his father Bryon (played by 
Bartholomew John)
a US Navy boatswain's mate (and quite the womanizer - two women in bed at the same time!). The city's harsh conditions and his father's upbringing made Zack grow up pretty quickly and learned his way to get ahead in life. Wanting to change the course of his life's path and inspired by a navy officer who once came to his aid when he was robbed, the older Zack Mayo (played by Ben Mingay) signs up for the Navy Aviator Office Candidate School. In his 80s-style mullet and biker attire, Zack and his other fellow OCs went in to report for their first day, receiving a 'friendly welcome' by drill officer Sergeant Emil Foley (played by Bert LaBonte) whose life mission seemed to be to break the new recruits by putting them through a rigorous 12-week programme which aims to eliminate those who were not strong enough physically and mentally to survive through the challenges presented. The stage was set up to resemble a navy base with clever use of the turntable stage to make it look as if the cast had to walk very far to get from place to place. The transition of scenes moved smoothly and there were some pretty good vocals from the cast singing several group and solo rock-pop numbers.

A change of scene from the navy base and the audience is introduced to the girls, Paula Pokrifki (played by Amanda Harrison), a bright young woman who works her days in a cardboard factory to pay for her night classes so she can become a nurse, and Paula's co-worker and good friend Lynette Pomeroy (played by Kate Kendall), who infinitely aspires to be a navy officer's wife and constantly looking for the next officer-to-be who might just be THE Mr. Right, whisking her away from her mundane life. Lynette persuaded Paula to accompany over to the navy base to check out the new recruits and when Zack played wingman for Sid at the local dance, it was obvious that Sid was 'hooked' by Lynette, and Zack and Paula too developed a romantic relationship. Some of the bedroom scenes were quite raunchy, a topless Lynette (her back was towards the audience so maybe she wasn't fully topless) 'riding' Sid to ecstasy in a dingy motel room, and Zack wearing nothing but his white boxers, taunting the audience with his chiselled body. I wondered how these scenes went down with the older folk...Definitely lots of eye candy for both sexes, and for those of you who gets the thrill of seeing hot guys flex some muscles, you are in for a treat - the athletic cast not only had to act, sing and dance but many of their drill scenes require physical activity. Ah-ha, I see you have some saliva trailing from the side of your opened mouth :P


Over time, the romance of the two couples progressed. Back at the navy base, one by one the weaker cadets DORed (DOR stands for "Drop On Request"), sounding the foghorn when they could no longer put up with the programme. Foley strongly believes Zack lacks motivation and is not a team player - in this scene, Zack defied orders of his team leader in a fire simulation to save himself. Foley sang an
 amazing tenor solo "I'll Be Damned" reprimanding his recruits, and with the song concluded Act I of the show. 

"That wasn't much of an applause," I commented to Jono, hearing the rather unenthusiastic response of the crowd just as we break for half-time. I've read several negative reviews of the musical beforehand but I wasn't going to let it deter me from checking out the musical myself. Frankly, I thought the show was good so far and its stage adaptation done well - it was exactly how I remembered the movie to be. Perhaps the older crowd were expecting something more 'traditional'...


About 20 minutes later, the audience were back for Act II which opened with a scene at the bar, the remaining recruits singing "Halfway" and dancing salsa which was an interesting change to the rock-pop tunes we've heard in Act I. Zack and Paula were falling in love with one another but as they both agreed they were only in it for a good time, both refrained from putting themselves in a vulnerable position of being in love. Meanwhile, Zack has been winning favours with the other recruits with his 
sideline business selling pre-shined shoes and buckles, and pressed uniforms to the others, to the point he was hiding his stash at a special secluded location that Paula previously revealed to him in confidence. Nothing can go past Foley unnoticed and when he discovered Zack's side business, he severely punishes Zack in an attempt to make him DOR but Zack refuses to give in. When Foley told Zack he will have him thrown out, Zack finally breaks into tears saying he had no where to go. In that moment of utter despair, Zack's friends Sid, Lynette and Paula appeared by the gates of the base, shouting out a chant of encouragement to Zack not to DOR, and to everyone's surprised, pulling their pants down and baring their asses - the crowd squealed with laughter at the sight! Some of the comic scenes and smart one-liners were slotted throughout the show, adding a bit of comedy into the mix. Zack stays on in the programme and ever since then he has worked his way to become one of the top recruits towards the final weeks, even showing leadership by abandoning his attempt to break the obstacle course record by coaching fellow recruit Taniya Seeger (played by Zahra Newman) to overcome the wall climb.

On one of Lynette and Sid's make out sessions, Lynette drops the bomb informing Sid that she was pregnant. Shocked and confused with the news, Sid suffered a sudden panic attack in the water chamber simulation. Realising that he signed up for the programme out of obligation to his family, Sid DORed on week 11. He heads over to Lynette's and proposes only to be told that there was no baby and all she wanted was to marry a naval aviator (and he will never be one now). Despondent, Sid checks himself into the motel and commits suicide. When Zack and Paula discovered Sid, it was too late. Filled with grief and rage, Zack lashes out at Paula, believing she was no different to Lynette and stormed out, ending their relationship there and then. Zack decides to DOR himself but Foley wouldn't allow it - the two men fought it out in an unofficial fight as the rest of the recruits watched on, Foley eventually winning by kicking Zack in the groin and told Zack he can quit if he wanted to.


On graduation day, Zack shows up and together with the rest of his fellow recruits, was sworn into the Navy. Each recruit received a salute from Foley in exchange for a silver US dollar (this is Naval tradition). There were only two naval aviation positions available for each graduating class but Foley made an exception, recommending Zack as a special third graduate to join the naval aviators. For a moment, there was a glimpse of Foley letting his guard down and wanting to embrace Zack but instead gave him the perfect salute and went to 'welcome' the next batch of recruits. 
I'm sure those of you who remembered the movie well knows what comes next! Zack rushes to the factory to find Paula, kisses her passionately and picks her up, walking out with her in his arms while her colleagues applauded and cheered - this was the big ending where the famous theme song "Up Where We Belong" was sung.

For a new musical, both Jono and I thought it was very good. There may be parts that can be tweaked to perfection (at times, I couldn't quite relate to the emotions some of the characters were portraying) but generally a good heart-warming show. Sydneysiders, I urge that you give this musical your support so that it will continue to gain reputation and become an establish musical like others that have opened in Sydney. Plus we want to encourage new musicals to open in Sydney - isn't it great to be the first city to see a new production? I definitely think so!



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